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Talking About Periods in the Workplace Blog Series: Gloria Bell

Talking About Periods in the Workplace with Gloria Bell, Founder of the Women in Tech Summit

February 19, 2024

Interviewed by Meaghan Sullivan, Google Workspace Marketing Customer Programs Lead

Gloria Bell is the Founder and Executive Director of the Inspiring Tech Foundation and Founder of the Women In Tech Summit (WITS). Along with a personal passion and commitment to equity and equality in tech and the world in general, Gloria brings over 30 years of successful business operations, communications, event management, and entrepreneurial experience to her role. 

Can you tell us about the story of your first period?

I had an older sister and lots of older cousins and aunts, so it was never a taboo subject. When you’re raised by a lot of women, it’s just kind of something that’s there. From the time I started sixth grade, my mom always made sure I had a pad in my purse. I got my period for the first time at home, and it was just a very normal thing. I remember looking back years later at a lot of my friends who had a completely different experience than what I had. My friends came and talked to my mom because she was the one who was willing to talk about it. When they were ready to use tampons, they came and talked to my mom because their moms were too embarrassed to talk about it. 

How were you taught about menstruation in school? Did you have any misconceptions about periods at the time?

In fifth grade, all of the girls were taken out of class and sent to the auditorium. We were given this talk explaining what periods were, this is what you do about it and if it happens at school, this is what you do. When I was younger, one of the misconceptions was that everyone else was as open about it as my family was and that everyone was as comfortable talking about it. 

Do you believe that periods should be discussed in the workplace? Why or why not?

I believe it is not a topic that should be hidden. But I also believe there’s a time and a place for that discussion. I think everyone should be able to feel comfortable and feel free to have that discussion when they need to have it. Everybody should feel comfortable talking about everything. But there also needs to be a little bit of professional etiquette in there as well. Maybe that is not a conversation you have in the middle of the office floor with everybody around you. You can walk up to your manager and have that conversation, and maybe that is a conversation you have with them pulled off to the side. You should never feel like you can’t have the conversation, but there’s a time and a place for the topic. 

How can organizations create a supportive and inclusive environment for employees to talk about menstruation at work?

Leaders need to be taught how to create communication and open communication channels, and that is something that is being inconsistently taught. If you are going to take someone who’s really really great at what they do and say they should be a leader, then you need to be providing them with the support and the training to give them leadership skills, which includes the ability to communicate. When you show someone how to communicate, they naturally will then create those open lines of communication, which create those safe spaces to communicate.

Are there any policies or initiatives that you believe are essential for addressing menstruation-related challenges in the workplace?

I think one of the things that needs to happen is making sure that everyone actually understands [menstruation]. Having that class I had in fifth grade [about menstruation] while the girls were in one room and the boys were in another, I really believe there has been a lack of that education. At that age, there are so many misconceptions. By the time we become adults and we’re in the workplace, it becomes really hard to have a conversation when you’re not having a conversation from the same starting point. How many non-menstruators do you know who actually really truly understand what endometriosis is? And what someone who’s experiencing that is actually going through? You don’t want to go back and have those training courses for adults in a workplace, but having the resources so that when an employee goes to someone and says, “This is what I’m dealing with,” then they have a resource that you can go to learn more. 

How do you see the intersection of gender equality and the conversation around menstruation and professional settings? Does that hinge on equality in the workplace and how does menstruation kind of come up in that conversation?

I haven’t seen it come up directly in my personal experience. But I do see it as the more gender equality you have, the more likely the opportunities are there for those kinds of conversations to happen and the more open the people and the organization are going to be. Because it’s a mindset. I can walk into an office or any environment, and I can tell how true the [company] culture is to their gender equality aims by whether or not they have period products in the bathroom. Are the products in the bathroom actually designed for women-identifying and non-binary people? I have walked into women’s bathrooms [stocked with] men’s products. Clearly, they were buying men’s products and threw the extras in the [women’s bathrooms], which is a huge red flag to how committed you are to gender equality. 

What are some of the potential benefits for both employees and organizations when the topic of menstruation is openly discussed and supported at work?

Trust. You’ve created an environment where there is trust. If a topic like menstruation can be discussed, then you have created an environment where everyone is free to talk about anything. That is the kind of environment that everyone should work in.

What advice would you give to individuals who feel uncomfortable discussing their menstrual health or needs with their employers or colleagues?

I would tell them to be as factual, open and transparent as they are comfortable being. The trust has to go both ways. If you’re expecting your management to create an environment of trust so that you can be comfortable talking about it, they need to trust you. It doesn’t mean you have to tell them every little detail. But you need to give them sufficient information so that they can make reasonable decisions to support you. The other piece of advice that I can give to a leader is to pay attention. You should know the people that you’re leading well enough to initiate those conversations when something’s wrong. Even if you don’t initiate the conversation, you need to initiate a conversation that my door is open if you need to talk.

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claire coder,founder + ceo

claire coder,
founder + ceo

Hi! I’m Claire. I founded Aunt Flow after getting my period in public without the supplies needed.

At 18 years old, I dedicated my life to developing a solution to ensure businesses and schools could sustainably provide quality period products, for free, in bathrooms. Our products are made with organic cotton and we are constantly working to reduce our environmental impact! Since 2021, we've donated over 5 MILLION period products to menstruators in need. I call this people helping people. PERIOD.®