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According to some career coaches, the ability to use menstrual patterns to predict creative, reflective or outgoing moods can be a 'superpower.'PeopleImages/Getty Images

UK-based career coach Pamella Bisson starts every client session with a question: “Where are you in your cycle?”

It might seem an invasive question in another setting, but her clients aren’t offended – they’ve come to Ms. Bisson for her method of helping people match their workflows to, well, another flow: their menstrual cycle.

While everyone’s body is different, a monthly cycle typically has four phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. In each phase, the body releases different hormones, which, studies show, can influence mood, energy levels and even mental health. The follicular phase and ovulation, for example, are both associated with happiness, high energy and creativity, while the luteal phase can mean low energy and irritability.

Ms. Bisson, and other coaches like her, are raising the question: Why aren’t menstruators tapping into that cycle to help guide their working lives?

In her own schedule, Ms. Bisson focuses on creative work when she’s menstruating and works on reviews and planning in her luteal phase when she’s feeling introspective. During her follicular phase when she’s feeling more high-energy and extroverted, she schedules meetings and networking.

Ms. Bisson notes that this kind of “tuning into” one’s body is typically discouraged in modern workplace culture. “You get up in the morning and you go, go, go” on the same tasks every day, regardless of how your body feels, she says.

While many of Ms. Bisson’s clients are C-level executives or business owners who can circumvent that dominant work culture, she recognizes that most people working in an office setting or on a team don’t have much autonomy over the kind of work they do day-to-day. However, some clients come to her for guidance when they’re working on a long-term project or making a career change.

For example, she recently worked with a client who was job-hunting and helped her map out a plan according to her menstrual cycle, scheduling interviews and networking during her follicular phase – when her client entered “fabulous mode,” Ms. Bisson says.

San Diego-based Renae Fieck is another career coach who helps women ”unlock the power” of their menstrual cycle at work. She says it’s about optimization, not accommodation.

“There are a lot of really powerful women performing without adjusting for their cycle,” she says. “We as women can do it, and I do a lot of things out of alignment with my cycle. But [I know that] when I can match up certain things, I become so much more effective.”

In other words, menstruators aren’t necessarily hindered by their cycle. They can get work done when they’re feeling unmotivated or show up when they’d rather not go to a networking event. But the ability to use menstrual patterns to predict creative, reflective or outgoing moods can be a “superpower,” Ms. Fieck says.

It’s is an important distinction, she adds, because menstruation has historically been used against women as an excuse not to give them leadership roles. It’s the idea that women are governed by their hormones and therefore can’t work as logically and consistently as non-menstruators.

For this reason, feminists have long argued against a connection between menstruation and professional performance.

Winny Shen, an associate professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business studying gender and work, says the stakes are high. Talking about menstruation in the context of work “can make people objectify women, focus on their bodies.” Think of that dusty old insult – “she must be on her period” – thrown at women when they express anger or criticism.

Menstruation is also often linked to motherhood, Dr. Shen adds. “Drawing attention to [motherhood] can potentially also lead to some negative … assumptions, often incorrect assumptions, around women’s dedication to their careers.”

(Trans men and non-binary people can experience this stigma, too, plus other challenges around menstruating at work, such as gender dysphoria or safety concerns about being seen using menstrual products in workplace bathrooms.)

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Coach Pamella Bisson says she had a job-hunting client who planned interviews and networking during her 'fabulous' follicular phase.Supplied/Handout

Because of these negative connotations, menstruation is still a very taboo topic in most workplaces, Dr. Shen says. There are workplaces trying to change that, however, namely in developing policies around paid menstruation leave.

“I think those organizations have the goal in mind to make [menstruation] more of an open subject, that it’s simply a part of the lives of many workers and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she says.

The responsibility for this destigmatization lies with organizational leaders and policymakers, says Lisa Smith, co-ordinator of the Menstrual Cycle Research Group at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C. She suggests that one-on-one coaching around menstrual cycles may be capitalizing on menstruators’ challenges without addressing the underlying, systemic reasons for their workplace challenges.

“What you’re seeing [is] people addressing this as an individual issue as opposed to looking at the broader kinds of supports and changes that might need to happen in the workplace, so that menstruators are fully supported and their needs are met,” she says.

For her part, Ms. Bisson pushes back against the idea that organizations should be held to account when it comes to accommodating menstrual cycles. “That’s not my purpose. My purpose isn’t to change an institution that is steeped in stigmatizing, separating, segregating,” she says. In her view, it’s up to menstruators to find ways to optimize their performance throughout their cycle.

Ultimately, conversations about how people’s bodies affect their day-to-day work are a step in the right direction, says Dr. Shen.

“It needs to be a broader conversation in terms of workers as people instead of objects,” she says. “There’s this tendency historically for us to think about workers [as] just workers and all the other aspects of themselves are left at the front door of the organization, but in reality, that’s not true.”

For Ms. Fieck, it’s also about resisting the cultural norm of productivity at any cost.

“Our push and our drive to keep going and be consistent and keep the earth producing all the time is what’s leading the earth to being depleted,” she says. “And I think as human beings, we don’t function and produce that way either.”

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