Your period explains the pay gap

I find it thrilling that the topic of my time is gender equality at home and at work. The tension between these two spheres indeed is the crux of where I spend much of my efforts each and every day. I appreciate very much the ink, research and airtime committed to exploring the sociology, psychology and shitty chauvinism that contributes to the disparity between men and women’s take-home pay, professional achievement and work at home. Yet there is a critical piece of the pie that few dare touch:


Every husband, boyfriend, son and nephew has observed, joked and retreated in the face of some woman’s crabbiness, irrationality or full-on rage that torments her monthly. These mood swings are not just the stuff of stand-up comics and grumbling spouses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom.

A few years ago one media-impaired business group head in New Zealand made the mistake of publicly blaming the pay gap in that country on women’s monthly cycles. “Some women have immense problems with their menstruation – immense problems,” said Alaisdair Thompson. “You know, they can pop a lot of Paracetemol and drag themselves into work, but it’s hard for them.”

Thompson was lambasted for his sexist stance, but who can argue with his point? While studies have shown that women do in fact take more sick leave than men — the explanations point to women’s family obligations as the culprit — not their periods. After all, it is but a few women who suffer debilitating cramps, migraines and other physical symptoms that might warrant a sick day. But for the majority of us who contend with garden-variety discomfort, fatigue and bloating, I argue that we are not performing at our optimum on those days of the month. Unwell people are lesser performers.

And bitchy people are lesser performers. If your monthly grumpiness takes your partner or kids aback, there is no way that does not trickle into your professional relationships, too. No matter how hard I try, once every couple of months I find that I was short with an uncooperative story source, or sent an email to a client that was perhaps a bit more tersely worded than had it been written a few days later in my cycle. I’m 36 years old and have spent 25 years learning how to manage my moderate PMS, but every now and again my period does impact my personal and professional lives. I’m not blaming poor behavior or low performance on my biology, but merely trying to explain it.

The tricky thing about blaming the pay gap on PMS is that not all women suffer from it, not everyone who does suffer from it does so the same each month, and many women have successfully learned to manage theirs. It is tough to blame things people can control (pay, promotions) on something we arguably have little control over (hormones). And so we chose not to talk about PMS and take it out of the massive discussion on work-life balance, feminism and the pay gap. We are desperate to bust through glass ceiling, but in order to do so, we have to face all pieces of the puzzle.

Never miss an offer or update.

Just pop in your name and email and be the first to find out what WealthySingleMommy is up to!

No B.S. I will never sell your contact info.

8 thoughts on “Your period explains the pay gap

  1. Emma – I have a {the?} solution! I’ve given one of the Shaklee products I’ve taken for years a nickname: the PMS obliterator. It’s call GLA. It eliminate tenderness, soreness and regulates the hormones that cause some/most PMS symptoms. Combined with B-Complex (which have their own nickname, not given by me: “the happy vitamins”), my husband reports being able to be virtually unaware of my cycle. Let me know if you’d like some info. :)

  2. I think a much more important question to ask is what is it about our working lives that is so unaccommodating of our biology that such a correlation (between paygap and PMS) could exist? Did you know that PMS is a condition *specific* to the post-industrial world? In plenty of pre-industrial societies past and present (where women’s cycles are in sync due to a more tribal way of living), menstruation is one of the determinants of the social calendar (of both men & women), rather than being brushed aside as an inconvenient malady. Regardless of whether menstrual seclusion is practiced, a common thread between these indigenous rituals is that work is forbidden during this time. What if your work schedule had “menstruation days” off built in, such that the hours could be put in during the more productive parts of your cycle, and the important meetings were strategically scheduled around when the women on your team performed their best work? On a personal note, I have always noticed that I only suffered PMS when tied to my familial and professional obligations which ignored the physical mandate to rest. When I take the first day off to eat chocolate and re-arrange my furniture or make some art, I’m as right as rain.

    1. Atlantis – this is fascinating, and I really appreciate this perspective and insight. I totally agree that such accommodation would be fantastic, but the first step is to ACKNOWLEDGE that PMS affects our productivity. If you look at the conversation on our FB page, a couple outraged women said that even suggesting that our periods have anything to do with professional accomplishments is sexist.

  3. At this point, I have pre-PMS, PMS and post PMS. We’re talking 10 days of constant Advil popping and pain and whining. I need more women to become scientists and figure this shit out (men/companies concentrating on this issue instead of figuring out how to give a 90-year-old a hard on also works).

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *