with Andreea Hardware, International Women's Health & Development Researcher and Menstrual Health Consultant
As part of the "How to have better periods at work" series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andreea. We talked about the challenges related to the ongoing pandemic as well as the learnings for our return to the workplace, and how all that relates to menstrual health. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives and the way we work, and I hope that everyone reading this can breathe a little easier, knowing that it is not easy navigating through these trying times for others either.
Andreea, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. You have a background in women’s health, can you tell me a bit more about that? How did you get into this topic in the first place?
I came to women’s heath through the menstruation perspective. Having studied disaster management within the international development field, I quickly came to realise the lack of understanding, knowledge and research around the issues that women and girls face when in such settings. My MA research was situated within the menstrual health, policy, and relief protocols. Looking at the need to shape policy in relation to how relief is carried out and ensuring that all voice of women and girls are heard. My researched looked in detail at the disability nexus when addressing the lack of understanding and knowledge surrounding menstrual health.
Although this route was heavy in regard to research and data, it opened my eyes to the scale of the problems and challenges and really made me want to dedicate more time to understanding how my future roles can support the progression of this field.
Do you practice menstrual cycle awareness, and do you base your work on your cycle phases?
In all honesty, I did not practice any specific type or awareness before the pandemic. I saw myself as an average menstruator that did not suffer from extreme hormone imbalances, pain or any other type of symptoms related to menstruation. It was not until the first UK lockdown that I began to notice the relationship between my mood and physical changes. A year later and I can honestly say that I am far more in turn with my mind and body. I listen to the cues and understand them far better than I used to.
Due to being on and off furlough, I have not really structured my work around my cycle phases. However, since I have been able to manage my own time and space, I now plan around my phases ensuring that heavy work is not left to the intense days nor to the moments I feel least able.
We are both part of the “menstrual health bubble”, and people probably feel more open to talking about their period with us. Still, do you feel like there has been a shift towards a higher menstrual cycle awareness in the last years?
I actively surround myself with conversations about menstruation, and I can honestly say that there is not a day that I don’t make reference to my physical and mental moods and feelings. Being as open as I am, I guess I ‘bulldoze’ the lack of conversation around menstruation. Thinking about it, I believe that I am the first to bring the conversation up in groups or with girlfriends, however, I have definitely seen a shift in the spaces that are open to such discussions, and many more people (post lockdown) were discussing all menstrual-related topics. I also think that the numerous lockdowns over the last year have highlighted the importance of discussing physical and mental health – forcing people to slow down has certainly helped with the realignment of the two areas of life.
When we last talked, you mentioned that while the Covid-19 pandemic has a devastating effect on most people, there are some important learnings that we should focus on once we return to our workplaces. What is your main learning and how will you try to implement that in your personal work routine?
My learnings mainly relate to the need to be more holistic in my daily life. I seem to have been swept within a vacuum, making me miss out on many other important aspects of life.
"Although the last year has been incredibly challenging in many ways, it has also shown the value in slowing down and listening to mind, body and soul – something that would have been virtually impossible with an almost 2hour commute, twice a day, five days a week."
I feel like this pandemic has taught a lot of employers that they can trust their employees to find creative and flexible solutions and to adapt to new situations quickly. This could benefit a lot of people who have different needs or just don’t fit the standard way of working. Do you see that as an opportunity to talk about issues like menstrual health at work?
I totally agree that it is an opportunity to open the discussion surrounding this area however, I also think that being part or and within the menstrual field, we are under the impression that many more employers are open to such a discussion than the reality. Ideally, I would hope that more employers feel like they can trust their employees to make appropriate decisions moving forward.
The situation now, so mostly working from home, and being dependent on our phone or laptop to communicate to our colleagues and friends, blurs the line between work and leisure. How do you handle that?
I don’t think I handle it too well. Within the first lockdown, my partner was also not working, and therefore I had someone to spend my time with. Since he has returned, I rely on my phone and social media, etc., to feel connected to the world. I also rely on it for work, both within LinkedIn and broadening my network whilst also consuming social media and creating my own content with my two online businesses. I genuinely do not have cut off hours for my phone, this is definitely an area I would like to improve moving forward.
If it were up to you, would you like to continue working remotely? Or would you like to work in a hybrid model?
I am looking to invest my time in my new business ventures which therefore means greater flexibility for my working hours and spaces. My florestry business will allow my to spend more time outdoors, travelling to meet clients and being physically busy. At the same time, I intend on continuing my freelance work as a consultant, which means that I join and leave teams of likeminded individuals on a regular basis – I would be happy to have my work-life balance be exactly that – more balanced.
I feel like the pandemic has highlighted the need for good communication at work, which is also the basis for articulating one’s needs concerning menstrual health! Has your way to communicate changed in any way?
I have always been a vocal person, friendly and approachable. The pandemic has certainly gone some way in silencing me, as I am no longer within an office surrounded by colleagues that like to share and discuss. Now I must book in time to have those conversations, which makes it more difficult to communicate freely. I think the pandemic has hindered my communication style and made me far more selective as to whom I give my time to and what conversations I have (and how long they last!).
Is there any aspect that you feel is usually not sufficiently covered when we talk about menstrual health at work?
The psychological aspects of menstruation are not discussed half as much as they should be.
"The field has addressed physical challenges faced by menstruators, however it has a long way to go in looking at how psychological impacts are a hindrance to the workplace and general quality of life."
The stereotypical judgements are still placed on the psychological attributes of menstruation, lack of true understanding on the behalf of both the menstruator and those ‘spectating’ has resulted in an under researched area. We are making progress, albeit, slow.
Which talk, podcast or book has had the biggest impact on how you think about menstruation and work? Why did it resonate with you?
The books that have had the biggest impact for me recently are as follows:
Fears to Fierce: A Woman's Guide to Owning Her Power
Schmidt, Brita Fernandez
This book showed me the importance of channelling my own energy and power. Seeing it as a guiding torch to my goals and ambitions in life. Although not menstruation related, I highly recommend for understanding your own path and making steps to achieving it.
Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living
I absolutely loved this unapologetic book, it also highlighted the importance of loving yourself and help me work through some tough moments in the last year.
The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies
This is the menstruation equivalent of a bible! Highly significant to have the first ever published works of everything menstruation related. A complete holistic approach to the field. Highly recommended!
I truly loved this honest and inspiring conversation with you, Andreea. Thank you again for sharing your experience with me!
Do you want to get in touch with Andreea? Send her a message on LinkedIn!