Is there anything specific about working at a manufacturing plant from the perspective of women’s menstrual health? Working in an office differs from working at a factory. Does this require a different approach to menstruation?
In our three factories in Poland, which are located in Kwidzyn, Kętrzyn and Gliwice, more than 60 percent of our staff are women, of whom over 90 percent work directly or indirectly in production. Moreover, they work at different schedules and shift systems for seven and a half hours per shift when employed full-time. Our facilities process and manufacture plastics for various sectors and industries. These include, among others, multimedia, electronics, entertainment, home appliances and the cosmetics industry. Production workstations usually involve rotation, which means that today an operator works with machine X, tomorrow she may work with machine Y, and the day after tomorrow with machine Z. One day, an operator may work at an individual station as an independent operator receiving items and inspecting workmanship details, and the next day work in a team as one of the operators of a component assembly line.
Although work in a three-shift system in rotating positions is not easy or pleasant for women – who are cyclical persons – it eliminates monotony and provides an opportunity to grow through a variety of tasks. Production workers make the best of their 30-minute scheduled break during a shift, because it’s simply impossible to return to the workstation 10 minutes or even 5 minutes late. The machine or the production line will not wait.
How did your company solve the issue of menstrual health?
It wasn’t so much a matter of solving the issue but of simply giving it the recognition it deserves! Providing access to hygiene products directly in the company’s restroom is a performance-enhancing measure. It is something we do with health – especially mental health – in mind, but it’s also a way to show proper respect for working women.
Although we were aware of dilemmas related to low income, we never saw poverty in terms of nature and menstruation, because we did not link this problem to the lack of funds to purchase basic hygiene items and the associated stress or shame. The Career Cycle campaign opened our eyes to menstrual poverty and showed us how a simple workplace solution, such as easy access to menstrual pads, can make life easier.
Can you imagine that the biggest problem when developing a cost estimate for the project was the dispenser for menstrual pads? Most companies that sell toilet or industrial restroom equipment did not offer dispensers. Neither the company that provided us with factory cleaning services at the time and nor the one that supplied us with chemical products had such dispensers. This was a clear sign and confirmation that we were breaking a taboo.
How did the company come up with the idea to provide female employees with menstrual hygiene products? This is still an uncommon practice in Poland.
In addition to its HR and payroll duties, our HR Department is seen as the department that supports the organisation. However, the effectiveness of our initiatives often depends on the amount of funds allocated for development activities. It is not an easy role since its effectiveness depends on many factors. However, what makes us go the extra mile is our openness to people and their problems, and the fact that we take professional and personal joy in it. We are able to create an environment in which our team has the freedom to implement its plans – and whatever it gets permission to do (laughs).
The idea to provide female workers with menstrual hygiene products was the result of three events.
There was a kind of a cause-and-effect sequence, which included failure to recruit women to production positions, our pursuit of an idea to refresh and expand the benefits package that motivates our employees, and an impulse that struck us when we read a featured article about the Kulczyk Foundation’s ‘Open your eyes and see…’ exhibition. When I asked the CEO for permission for our company to join the Career Cycle project, he said: ‘Agreed, Monika’ – he needed no additional encouragement or arguments! Indeed, we do have full understanding and support of the Management Board, and we are simply lucky to work with such people! On 8 March 2022, we joined the ‘Career Cycle’ programme. It has been in full swing 9 months already.
How was the idea received by your female and male employees?
The reception was immensely positive. People were surprised; they sometimes even doubted that our restrooms had become women-friendly on a permanent basis. Do we help to reduce feelings of anxiety and embarrassment, making it easier for women to concentrate on their work? Are we reducing stress hormone levels? I don’t know that yet, but certainly our openness and sensitivity to the cyclical nature of our female employees makes everyone aware that menstruation is a natural thing rather than a cause for worry or a reason to hide, let alone something to be ashamed of. After 12 months of implementing the Career Cycle project, we will conduct a satisfaction survey among our employees. I hope this will clearly show us whether we were right to assume that an accessible pad can do more for women’s comfort at work than the most expensive strategy.
The text was published at biznes.gazetaprawna.pl on 02 December 2022.