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Britain's Coexist to offer flexible 'period policy' for women with painful cycles

A British company plans to introduce a "period policy" to give its women employees flexibility to work around painful menstrual cycles.
/ Source: TODAY

A British company plans to introduce a new policy to give its female employees the flexibility to work around their menstrual cycles, allowing them to work from home or take time off during the most painful part of their periods.

Coexist CIC, a Bristol-based management company, said the so-called “period policy” is intended to open a conversation about workplace flexibility, as well as change mindsets surrounding a woman's natural cycle.

A British company plans to introduce a policy to give women flexibility to work around painful periods.
A British company plans to introduce a policy to give women flexibility to work around painful periods.Shutterstock

“The fact that the word ‘period' for a lot of people is embarrassing means that whole area hasn’t actually been understood,” said Bex Baxter, the director of Coexist, which operates a community arts center. “Anything that’s taboo like this is a subject that has been hidden, repressed and ignored.”

The policy will be fine-tuned on March 15, when Coexist hosts an open workshop for community businesses, lawmakers and charity organizations to discuss “all different kinds of natural cycles, including the menstrual cycle.” Coexist employees will then hammer out details of the period policy during a closed-door meeting that will follow the workshop.

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Baxter said her company's period policy will differ from typical sick leave because menstruation is “not a sickness.” What many people don't know is that the more painful part of a woman’s period is actually followed by several days when a woman's productivity level is actually several times higher, she said. That often provides women a chance to make up any work they may have missed.

Baxter said the idea behind a period policy partially stemmed from her own experience with painful periods and how a deeper understanding of her menstrual cycle, along with workplace flexibility, helped her cope.

Coexist director Bex Baxter and her mostly-female staff
Coexist director Bex Baxter and her mostly-female staffCoexist

But Baxter said the policy also came about from her getting tired of hearing women apologize for their cycles.

“I would see a lot of women at receptions suffer and whisper, ‘It’s my period,” and feeling really embarrassed that they can’t bulldoze through,” she said. “It made me wake and up and say, something has to shift on this.”

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Of Coexist’s 34 employees, all but eight are women.

“For women to just take loads of tablets and try and be valued as men so they don’t look any different is missing the point,” Baxter said. “Women do have cycles, it’s not about indulging it, it’s not about being victims to it. It’s about valuing the whole cycle and reconnecting to the power of natural cycles, rather than sitting yourselves in contrived, very male systems that don’t actually work for women.”

She compared the situation to how her company works with an employee who suffers from migraines.

“Rather than taking sick days, he self manages and we support him to take time off and put it back in later, and he’s brilliant at his job and just as productive,” she said.

The March 15 workshop will also address other “natural” cycles, including those impacted by weather and seasons, as well as circadian rhythms driving people’s 24-hour sleep and wake cycles.

Baxter said she expects her company to implement the period policy shortly after that meeting.

"We want to share it with everyone and give it a test drive," she said. "We're happy to take the risk for everyone else and keep this conversation going."

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.