Next up in our Period Powerful Profiles series, we have Clare Knox, founder of See Her Thrive. We talked to Clare all about PMDD and the mission behind her period powerful project.
Why motivated you to start up See Her Thrive?
I see people post day in, day out on out on social media about their struggles with menstrual-related health conditions at work. As a secondary school teacher with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) I also had my own monthly battle against fatigue, irritability, depression and emotional outbursts. Thankfully, I responded well to SSRI’s and things seem to be under control (for now).
My own experience made me wonder how other women cope with PMDD at work and I embarked on a journey to find out. What I discovered through my research, is that there is a huge lack of awareness and support for menstrual and reproductive health conditions in the workplace. I also found that these chronic disorders can be classed as a disability and employers should be making reasonable adjustments to help people manage their symptoms at work. Sadly, this is not happening, and many talented women are leaving the workforce as a result.
So, after retraining as a Business Psychologist, I decided to set up See Her Thrive Women’s Health at Work. See Her Thrive aims to educate employers about conditions like PMDD, how they can impact women in the workplace and what organisations can (and should) do to support female and AFAB employees.
What’s your mission?
Our mission at See Her Thrive, is to educate employers about reproductive health disorders and improve support systems for women in the workplace.
What situation are women facing in the workplace?
Many of the symptoms associated with disorders like PMDD can make work incredibly difficult. We know that hormonal changes in the premenstrual phase alter the physical state of the brain. This can affect focus, concentration, attention to detail and decision making. On top of this, our ability to regulate emotions is compromised and many women experience outbursts of aggression or crying. This can be hugely embarrassing in the workplace. But, in the case of PMDD, perhaps the most difficult symptom to manage at work, is not wanting to interact with other people. The disorder can make you withdraw from everyone around you; almost like being sucked into a black hole. In my case, I didn’t have the energy to engage with anyone. I didn’t want to talk or leave my house. I didn’t want to be around people at all. All I wanted was to be left under my dark cloud, to ride out the storm. Alone.
Not telling our employers…
And like many other women, I didn’t tell my employer. See, we have an epidemic of women going to work, putting on a mask and battling physical and emotional pain. Many women are afraid to disclose their condition because reproductive health just isn’t talked about in the workplace. Women are also worried that they will be perceived as weak or incompetent by colleagues, being overlooked for promotion or even dismissed. In addition, the invisible and silent nature of reproductive health conditions means that many women are concerned about not being believed. And then there are people who dismiss and trivialise these chronic conditions as “period pain”, having never experienced menstrual problems themselves.
We know that bottling up emotions and “putting on a brave face” is not a positive way of coping. It can lead to long-term health problems, as well as exacerbate symptoms. And those emotions have to be released at some point, which is often why our partners and loved ones get it in the neck! So, the wider impact of struggling at work could be greater than we think.
We also know that women with PMDD, for example, tend to over-compensate on their good days. This can result in them working for longer or taking work home, or over-committing. Again, over a long period of time, this can lead to burnout.
Sadly, in many cases, employers are either oblivious to the situation, or they’re aware and don’t care. One woman I met, for example, attempted suicide as a result of her PMDD (15% of women with the condition are thought to attempt suicide) and was given a disciplinary for missing her shift at work, despite the fact that her partner had called to explain the situation. There are other women on Stage 2 and 3 absence capability measures because of (unavoidable) time off work as a result of chronic reproductive health conditions.
How can employers support reproductive health in the workplace?
There are lots of things employers can do to support reproductive health in the workplace. A really good place to start is to provide awareness training for staff, as this can open up a conversation and break the stigma. Reasonable adjustments, such as flexible working, are also considered helpful by women with reproductive health conditions.
Do you have any upcoming projects in the pipeline?
There are lots of exciting plans over the coming months! I’ve teamed up with the Vicious Cycle: making PMDD visible project to deliver workplace awareness training. We held our first session in September and received really positive feedback. Later this month I’m very excited to be a guest on the Heavy Flow podcast, talking all things menstrual health. I’m going to be presenting my research on PMDD in the workplace at the CIPD Applied Research Conference in December, and also at the PMDD & Me conference in April next year, which I’m really looking forward to.
What advice would you give to someone who is managing a reproductive health condition in the workplace?
Tell your manager/HR/employer about your condition, especially if you are struggling. Without that information, your employer is unable to provide support or make reasonable adjustments and you are leaving yourself open to unfair treatment.
Track your workplace triggers and create an action plan to help manage them. A template is free to download from our website.
Accept that you are going to have good and bad days. Be gentle with yourself when you are struggling and adjust your workload and expectations to reflect what you can realistically cope with.
Be aware of taking on too much or overworking on your good days!
Talk to someone you trust. It helps.