#PeriodLeave: How can we make it work?

The recent #PeriodLeave discussion is one you may agree or disagree with, but what you cannot do is ignore it. Thus, before sharing any side of the coin, we must acknowledge that the one thing Zomato’s (an Indian food delivery company) new policy granting women 10 days of annual period leave, has successfully achieved, is allowing us to talk about our periods out in the open. Our LinkedIn feeds are filled with conversation around periods (men’s posts included), something we only thought we could discuss on WhatsApp groups with the girls, and we are all for it. It is important to note that even in India, there are companies such as ChaaiPani, Culture Machine already granting period leave and after Zomato, a few other companies seem to be following suite.

There are also forms of menstrual leave policies in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Zambia. Now the real question is, is this a move forward or backward in the fight for gender equality at the workplace?

Most women in the working age group are privy to menstrual pain. Gynaecologists have tried to describe the pain by comparing it to cutting your finger without an anaesthetic and some have even gone on to call it more painful than a heart attack! Truth is the level of intensity of pain varies widely among different women. The symptoms could range from stomach pain to headaches, nausea, heavy bleeding and even sleeplessness and depression.

The policy allows women to rest their body when needed without carrying the guilt of missing work. There is no denying that men and women are biologically different, and so women should not be penalised to take unpaid leave when they are in pain. Should they?

Insights from Working Women Experiencing Menstruation
Source: Victorian Womens Trust

The downside of the initiative is not as obvious as the positives. While we at The Pink Thread, don’t think taking period leave makes us ‘weaker’ in any sense (we are equal, not identical), we do fear an increase in the hiring bias. And this fear comes from the bias we have experienced with the maternity leave law. Managers of both genders admit that maternity leave does either consciously or subconsciously impact their hiring decisions. Maternity leave is too expensive for companies and this is especially true for SME’s who have a bigger challenge to absorb the impact of the policy. Women have fought long and hard (and are still fighting) to rid themselves of these biases and be considered equal. So, will this added cushion further bridge this gap that we have tried to fill over the years, and subconsciously affect hiring, promotions and pay packages? We can only hope not.

At The Pink Thread, we don’t have all the answers, but we do have a plea to make. As women, we absolutely must stand in this decision together, and choose to #CollaborateNotCompete. The one thing we cannot let happen, is have this tear us apart. Some women choose to have kids, and some choose not to. We must not judge. Some women can function close to normal on their period while some can barely make it out of bed. Let us not judge.

We believe what is important is that the conversation has started and the policy decision at the moment is only made at a private company level and is not yet set in stone. Organisations thus have the ability to create a program unique to them that works for their employees. We just have to make sure our voices are heard, when these policies are drafted.

This is especially important because research shows that the success rate of these policies has not always been high. In Japan, for instance, women who utilised period leave were faced with negative consequences such as discrimination and harassment by employers. There is also the added bias and eye rolling from other employees. And so, the real nuance is going to be in the execution.

Speaking locally, Godrej Consumer Products Limited on the other hand, for example, offers

employees the ability to unlimited sick leaves for both genders, and there is a certain level of trust in the employee to use it judiciously. And we applaud that and wish the same trust is extended by other organisations.

If your organisation tackles the subject in a way you consider positive, please do share it with us.

Let’s listen to each other. Let’s learn from each other. Let’s make positive change happen.