Physiology should not reduce professional opportunities for

Although research shows that employers who take into account the needs of women at different stages of life have an advantage in the battle for talent, few companies introduce menstrual leave and even fewer offer support during the menopause.

For most employers, the natural physiological changes associated with the different phases of women’s lives – such as menstruation and the menopause – remain a taboo subject, despite the fact that they have a major impact not only on the wellbeing but also on the productivity of Polish women. According to a report by the Kulczyk Foundation, as many as 80 per cent of women experience various, sometimes very strong discomforts during menstruation that make it difficult for them to work. However, only 14 per cent take days off at that time, especially as they do not always want to admit to menstruation at work.

An even greater taboo and lack of knowledge accompany the menopause, i.e. the definitive cessation of menstruation, which is associated with preceding and subsequent ailments. This is a subject rarely discussed in public debate and practically ignored, as is also shown by the report “Menopause without taboos”, prepared on behalf of the Kulczyk Foundation and announced at the beginning of September during the 15th Congress of Women in Poznań. According to the report, almost half of Polish women believe that the menopause, also referred to as the climacterium, is a taboo subject in our country.

Awareness barrier

Most women are reluctant to admit to menopausal symptoms for fear of their professional standing. Almost six out of ten female participants in the survey (56 per cent) indicated that they would not tell their employer or supervisor about their menopause, and almost one in two would not tell their female boss or employer either. The RównoWaga competition for the female-friendly company of the year addressed to employers, organised by the Kulczyk Foundation, the Congress of Women and the Lewiatan Confederation under the media patronage of “Rzeczpospolita”, should help to change this attitude.

By showing the good practices of the competition winners in five areas of activity (equality policies and mechanisms, development and education, work-home balance, wages and health), the organisers of the competition want to promote management patterns based on gender equality in Poland. They hope that the good example of the leader employers will inspire other companies to create equal opportunities for women and men in the workplace, and encourage them to create a work environment that is friendly for everyone, regardless of gender.

The barrier that hinders change is often the lack of knowledge and awareness among employers. “Awareness is the basis, and in this area we still have a lot to do”, emphasised Henryka Bochniarz, Chairwoman of the Main Council of the Lewiatan Confederation, during a debate at the Congress of Women.

The big ones lead by example

There is particularly much to be done among small and medium-sized companies, which are not yet as aware of the need for balance and equality in the workplace. According to Henryka Bochniarz, the lack of education, of calling things by their names means that things that seem obvious and naturally become problems.

Including those on menstrual health and menopause. “I hope that the competition will influence the whole sphere related to equality policy, also in terms of health, to become normal,” said Bochniarz.

However, as Ewa Rumińska-Zimny, vice-president of the board of the Congress of Women Association and member of the competition’s chapter, admits, health is one of the five areas (in addition to the wage gap) in which Polish employers are currently performing poorly.

Joanna Maliszewska-Mazek, responsible for organising the competition on the part of the Kulczyk Foundation, is more optimistic about this issue. According to her, even in areas where there is still much to be done, some of the solutions proposed by the competition participants deserve attention. These include financing psychotherapy for employees, menopause-related facilities for women, and menstrual leave.

In Asian countries – including Japan, South Korea or Taiwan – such leaves have been known for years, but in the West, including Europe, the need for it has only recently been discussed. Usually as an additional employee benefit that could become a right.

A way to deal with staff shortage

The example was set by Spain, which was the first in Europe to pass a law this year granting women the right to three days of menstrual leave, extendable to five days, as part of a package of pro-equality reforms.

In Poland (where a similar law has been proposed by the Left), such a benefit is so far rare, although in a survey conducted last year by the portal, as many as 60 per cent of women indicated that they would be more likely to submit their CVs to a company that offers the possibility of taking menstrual leave. It could therefore give a company a competitive advantage in a market where many employers are experiencing a shortage of talent.

Such an advantage can also be provided by facilities for peri-menopausal women, who in the Kulczyk Foundation survey indicated specific solutions to support their comfort at work. They most often indicated the possibility to work remotely on demand (in positions where this is possible). A shower and a relaxation room, available in part of the offices, where you can relax and calm down, would also be a valuable amenity, especially for women who cannot work remotely. Two-thirds of women would also like to have more leave days on demand. Such solutions could encourage women 50+ to stay active in the labour market for longer, and without them labour shortages will deepen in Poland. According to the latest demographic forecast by the Central Statistical Office (CSO), even in a scenario that takes into account the inflow of economic migrants, the number of people of working age will decrease by as many as 7.1 million between 2022 and 2060.


Opinion of the “Rzeczpospolita” cycle partner – Employer of Rzeczpospolita

Employers increasingly recognise that we are different at work, that we have different needs, but that we should have equal opportunities,” observes the president of the Kulczyk Foundation.

At the Kulczyk Foundation, we see “unaddressed” topics – issues that receive too little attention in public debate and in the activities of official institutions. Such topics include menstruation and the menopause – issues of great importance to women, also in the context of their professional lives.

We are of the opinion that natural, physiological processes should not affect the perception of women in the workplace, should not lower their chances. However, our research shows that this is often the case. It happens that menstruating women are forced to work in oppressive, uncomfortable conditions, that they experience a lack of understanding and empathy from their superiors.

Women experiencing the menopause also complain about negative perceptions. According to our recent report “Menopause without taboos”, 56 per cent of women would not tell their employer or supervisor at work about their menopause.

Menstruation and the menopause are still largely taboo topics. We try to change this by publishing research findings, organising social campaigns and programmes and competitions for employers, such as the Career Cycle and, more recently, RównoWaga. We know that the basic prerequisite for change is an increase in social awareness, including among entrepreneurs. That is why we are delighted with the great response to the invitation to participate in our latest employer competition. The first edition of the RównoWaga competition received 99 entries, we have selected the finalists from among them, and during the European Forum for New Ideas on 13 October we will announce the winners.

Already today, I can say that the interest in the competition and the actions of employers presented in the applications show that positive changes are taking place among companies and other entities employing workers – because local government organisations and institutions related to administration could also enter the competition. This is of course a process, not everything happens at once, but employers are increasingly recognising that we are different at work, that we have different needs, but that we should have equal opportunities. That respecting these differences, being sensitive to them, is not a sign of weakness, but on the contrary, strength coming from diversity, combining the whole range of our potentials, capabilities and talents, into an image of a well-functioning company that successfully achieves its goals.

The role of the employer should not only be to provide appropriate conditions for all employees, regardless of gender, but also to ensure proper relations within the team, so that women are not subjected to malicious comments or insults. We are also counting on the domino effect, which is the modus operandi of our activities – through initiatives such as the RównoWaga competition, we want to inspire entrepreneurs to look for the most optimal, gender-equal solutions for their companies.