Let’s talk about feminine hygiene products.
Wait! Don’t go! Take a deep breath, guys. You can power through this.
Look around. 51% of the people you see need these products on a roughly monthly basis. They are expensive. They are taxed. They are not readily available. We actually have to plan ahead to have them on hand. We are too often caught by surprise.
One of the most caring things a coworking community can do is to solve this dilemma. A well-stocked basket full of a variety of kinds of products says to the women in your space:
“We care about you. We care about your health. We care about your productivity.”
Writer Christina Cauterucci writes in Slate, “Offices that provide a free stock of menstrual products in their bathrooms are making a small investment in their workers’ well-being that can yield disproportionate returns in morale and productivity.” She also cites stats from the UK’s Tampon Club.
She goes on to say, “as co-working [sic] spaces engage in an arms race of amenities to convince ever hipper companies to untether from old-school office setups, many have left their members to figure out menstrual supplies on their own. A DC space boasts that ‘you won’t find any carpets, water-coolers or Ikea’ there.’ You also won’t find any tampons or pads in the restroom. You will find free snacks, soda, beer, monthly catered lunches, and a ping-pong table.
A national brand offers beer and wine, plus members get fresh fruit, granola bars, Red Bull, twice-monthly breakfasts, and occasional in-office massages from professional massage therapists—all free. Menstrual products are some of the only amenities behind a paywall.
“Unless an individual building management company decides to provide them to members, tampons and pads are only available from bathroom vending machines. Another space that doesn’t offer menstrual supplies, does provide San Pellegrino, soda, snacks, and discounts at yoga studios. A member testimonial commends his space’s rotating artwork and Zen music. Members get free lattes, access to a fully stocked bar cart, and monthly catered lunches. If they bleed through their tampons, though, they’re out of luck.”
One of the challenges as a coworking member is that community managers often wait for requests from the members before there is a perceived need. Here, lemme help you out . . . IF YOU HAVE WOMEN IN YOUR SPACE, THERE IS A NEED. Sorry for yelling.
Oh, and another thing. She recounts the story of a woman helping a man get a new space started. On their shopping list, she added “more trash cans for ladies room.” He asked what happened to the one in there? This was her opportunity to enlighten him as to the need of individual ones within reach.
In The Mix Coworking, we offer amenity baskets in both men’s and women’s restrooms with all sorts of comfort items: hand lotion, mouthwash, emery boards, hairspray, and more. It’s also a demonstration of radical hospitality to the church folks with whom we share the space.
Creating awareness of this common need also expands our awareness of the needs of women in poverty among us. One of our members, Laura Harvey, initiated a holiday service project for Take Charge. Period. While other spaces were having canned food drives, we had a feminine product drive called Party. Period. Some of our community members really got into it, even creating Christmas decorations out of products to adorn a little tree. It was hilarious.
After a few weeks, we had a mountain of products right there in the space and the conversations it sparked were rich. Men were astonished at how expensive they were. The food pantry folks had to prompt us that they needed more pads than tampons. The upper middle class white women were surprised to learn that women of other cultures, and immigrant women in particular, prefer pads.
Unexpectedly, the church upstairs needed to use the coworking space for Sunday church service around that time. We suggested to the pastor that he might offer some explanation as to why there was the aforementioned mountain of products in the space. He did and there was a smattering of uncomfortable giggles. After the service, an elderly woman with a cane sought me out and pressed a $10 in my hand. “Get those ladies what they need,” she said firmly, resolutely. It spoke to me about what she had experienced in a lifetime of the secret sisterhood of women.
But secrets are about shame, and shame prevents women from asking for what we need. So, if your space isn’t supplying what you need or doesn’t respond to your request, pool your resources with the other women in the space and make it happen.
And think about finding another space!