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Menstrual health policy- an interview with Lisa Bartlett, Talent Berlin’s Regional Director

Giving women more flexibility around menstrual paid leave is a big talking point, especially in Spain and now Germany. Cramps and other period-related symptoms can hugely impact a woman’s ability to concentrate and feel comfortable working, yet this is often not taken seriously enough in the workplace.

However, some companies have already taken positive steps in offering more flexibility to women during their time of the month – including Talent International. We talked about this in more detail with Talent Berlin’s Regional Director, Lisa Bartlett, alongside Deutschlandfunk reporter, Katja Scherer. 

Journalist:  Every woman will understand this: once a month, your stomach hurts, you’re tired and, for some, even your circulation doesn’t function as efficiently as it should. While there’s no denying some women don’t experience symptoms quite to this extreme, there are many who do – feeling like they need to drag themselves into the office in pain to complete a normal day’s work.

There are days where the only thing that helps alleviate these symptoms is to stay in bed and put a hot water bottle on your stomach! So, in Spain, policies have recently been put in place allowing women to take time off when they have their period.

Katja, can you briefly summarise what exactly is planned in Spain?

Katja: The plain is that women who have pain during menstruation can stay at home 3-5 days per month, dependent on their individual needs. However, it’s still being decided whether they will receive a salary from the state for these days – the Spanish parliament is still yet to approve this.

Journalist: Do you think paid menstrual leave is something that would be possible here in Germany?

Katja: Well, at the moment there are only a few politicians who are demanding that this become law. But there are still positive steps being taken at an individual company level, with some companies voluntarily offering paid leave days for menstruation. There are also countries in Asia who already implement this by law.

Journalist: Really? Which ones?

Katja: Japan, for example, has had a law for over 70 years that women are able to stay home when they have severe menstrual pain. In Indonesia, 2 days per month are offered and, in South Korea, women can choose whether they want the right to take time off and still receive their normal pay quota.

Journalist: There are people who may question why women should be be allowed to stay home during menstruation? 

Katja: Well, the most obvious (and ethical) reason is so that they don’t have to go to work in pain. I talked about it with Lisa Bartlett, Berlin’s Regional Director at recruitment company Talent International. There, employees who menstruate have the flexibility to choose to work how they feel most comfortable – either working from home, the office, or taking a day off if pain is severe. Here’s what Lisa had to say in getting menstruation out of the taboo zone.

Lisa Bartlett: As someone who suffered with endometriosis over the years, I understand the importance of flexibility and openness around cramps and other symptoms. Even just saying the word “period” in a male-dominated office was something that always felt quite difficult. So, we just wanted to normalise the conversion here at Talent Berlin, helping our staff feel comfortable enough to speak up when they’re struggling. 

I often find the women on my team typically choose to work at home during menstruation rather than taking time off – but the option is there should they feel they need it. This increased flexibility has made it far more natural for my team to reach out if they need extra support during their time of the month. We also have boxes in the office with free pads, tampons, tea and that all-important chocolate! This just delivers that extra touch of care for those who still come into the office during their period, and I think it’s been a really positive step for us all.

Journalist: I’m now wondering, regarding conditions like endometriosis, can’t we just take sick leave if Germany anyway if we need to?

Katja: Yes that’s possible – you can get a ‘certificate of incapacity to work’ from your family doctor of gynaecologist. You can also get this online from https://au-schein.de/. However, a Dutch study from 2019 demonstrated that many women and girls still push themselves to go to work and school despite painful menstrual cramps, suggesting that taking sick days feels like too big of a hurdle. Having dedicated leave for menstruation is likely to make women feel more comfortable and at ease with having time off.

Journalist: That makes sense. But I’m imagining there are some criticisms that people may have?

Katja: Unfortunately, yes. Critics say that women may be at a disadvantage when searching for jobs or getting promotions. Some bosses may assume “they’re going to have more sick days than men anyway”. However, if menstrual leave was in place by law rather than companies volunteering to put these policies in place, this criticism would no longer be an issue. is also unclear whether such regulation is compatible with the General Equal Treatment Act in Germany.

Saskia Weishaupt, the commissioner for women's health for the Green Party, says that other things should first be implemented to make women's menstruation easier. As in, regulations that make it easier for women to go into the office while on their period. For example, being able to take longer breaks on site, having access to better toilet facilities. Sometimes, even starting here with these very low hurdles can be seen as an issue for some companies. 

It's so important to raise awareness so that both men and women understand the fundamentals of menstruation – and why it shouldn’t ever be taboo. 

Learn more about the culture at Talent here: https://tinyurl.com/mr2psxaw

If you would like to know more about current opportunities at Talent Berlin, contact lisa.bartlett@talentinternational.com.