Offices have a problem. Period.

Rant and resources on supporting people with periods at work.

January 07, 2016

Note: This was originally published on Medium.

“Hi. We need to talk about sanitary bins.”

Not a common opening line.

Not a common first conversation with a man you’ve never met before, in fact.

But there I was, stood at the office reception.

You see, there’s fresh sliced fruit in the water tank, beer on tap and a ping pong table — but no sanitary bins in the loos.

The offices are great, and the frontdesk team were diligently trying to solve a mixup with building administration.

But when free mouthwash arrived in the bathrooms, I snapped.

You see, office spaces have a problem with periods. My simple mission had just been to get a sanitary bin in the office before I had my period (that failed). It was an unusual case.

But what is still true: a billion-dollar office space startup pays people to slice fruit into water and now provides free mouthwash in the bathrooms, but doesn’t leave any tampons in them.

We’ve got some strange priorities.

I don’t need fruit in my water. I don’t need beer on tap. But if I’m bleeding, I need a sanitary product. The number of offices in London I’ve seen freely offering the former (or equivalent) before the latter, is kind of strange.

“But people around the world remember to bring their own — you’re a grown adult!”

Yes. But you could bring your own mouthwash too. What companies are saying is “we know that bad breath can make you, or even a client, feel uncomfortable, so it’s a worthwhile investment to provide this for you, in case you forgot your own solution”. Sanitary products are a similar investment in employee productivity and, I’d argue, a much higher priority one 1.

It’s easily solved.

A number of top tech firms now provide sanitary products, free of charge, in their bathrooms. calculated the cost of doing so at £4.28 per menstruating individual per year. I’d estimate the cost of sliced fruit in all the water tanks of one 5 floor swanky shared office building at £6.90 a day (they put lychees in the water one day — lychees!) 2. 260 days a year. I’d hazard a guess that a number of such offices in London don’t yet have 260 menstruating individuals in them. Sanitary products are a good deal. If you don’t see fruit in the water, you don’t have to waste office time going out to the shops to get some, or quietly ask a colleague to lend you a lime 3.

And the services exist. Companies like Sanitary Owl in the UK, or Hello Flo in the US, provide monthly home delivery packages, and the latter already provides for a number of US startups.

Happy bleeding resources:

In my accidental side-job as a bathroom campaigner 4, I have come across:

  • Tampon Club — resources to help you convince your boss, or provide a community solution instead
  • Free The Tampons — if you want to take this a step further and make them free in all public bathrooms
  • Don’t Let Them See Your Tampons — a fun piece on how awkward we often are about hiding sanitary products

(feel free to tweet further resources my way and I’ll add them here)

  1. If it’s unclear why sanitary products help employee productivity: some people do not have regular periods, so might not be able to anticipate when they need to take a product to the bathroom. Sometimes humans are just forgetful or busy. Walking back to the office to get said product is both time consuming and awkward. Walking to a shop because you don’t have one in the office and don’t know anyone to lend you what you need is even more time consuming. Plus, you’re still bleeding. A large portion of the working population will encounter this issue. Whilst this is also true for bad breath and bad breath is considered socially awkward, bleeding visibly is generally a complete taboo in an office so has a higher cost (plus there’s usually no social anxiety around asking for mint gum in an office, and plenty of people who could offer it to you).
  2. Each tank: 2 * 24p oranges, 2 x 30p lemons 1 x 30p lime = £1.38. Multiplied by 5 tanks in the office (one for each floor) = £6.90. I have a suspicion they might have added fruit more than once a day, but, equally, they also might have bought it cheaper as regular/wholesale purchasers, so this seems a fair estimate. They also sometimes used watermelon (£2.50 a pop). And yes, the water was damn tasty.
  3. Bonus points if you then discover no one else in your team has ever needed a lime. Then you get to ask a stranger for one. True story.
  4. You think I joke. Seriously, why don’t all public bathrooms have foot step door openers? And why have we never listened to Finland on the way bathroom doors open?
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