The title of this article is Period Leaves, period. The second period is a full-stop, in-case you didn't get the pun. It's usually unusual for men to talk about periods, but I'm going to do it anyway. It all started with the Founder & CEO of Zomato, publishing a blog on 8th of August 2020; folks who don't know what Zomato is, it's a food aggregator service that started in India and now has presence in a number of countries. Now, I personally have had special Twitter relationship with food aggregator service providers and I've stopped using most of them because of one particular practice that I find unethical; Zomato does it as well but I still use Zomato for general restaurant information and for getting my occasional Starbucks delight delivered, at least until the pre-COVID times.
About the blog, Zomato introduced upto 10 days of Period Leaves for women, including transgender people. And the media went berserk. There was coverage in national news papers and news channels, there were interviews and statements from Zomato officials, however what caught my attention was the eruption on social media. The social media went wild with supporting and against supporting such a policy; there were men & women who were supporting it and getting lashed by those not supporting it, the same happened the other way around, although if you were a man and not supporting it you were just a jerk, women not supporting it got some coverage and commented up on. So I thought, why shouldn't I look at it objectively, keeping all the pseudo-science BS out, and just focusing on what people have to say about such policies.
And I'm emphasising on keeping pseudo-science out because it was mentioned in a number of comments that "research" shows if it's good or bad, however, I can assure you if any such research exists, those who commented on social media have never read it. So I spoke with a few of my male and female friends, colleagues, and relatives one-on-one just to understand their views about it, and there were a few who were supporting this policy and few against it. I must point out that the views I collected did not include any transgender folks who this policy also applies to or folks who identify themselves as any gender other than male or female. So in case my views a skewed, I'm sorry for that, as I mentioned earlier, I'm just going to state the views as is and see where we go with it. I will obviously speak my views with my conclusion towards the end so do stick around.
1. Does this policy violate the notion of equality at work?
So the first common point that was stated by many on social media was that this policy violates the notion of equality at work, to an extent where one gentleman also commented that it should apply to men as well (silence). Let's be honest, is this policy unequal? Technically, yes! But why should that be a bad thing? Biologically, men and women are different, hence, policies exclusive to men and women can be managed differently. And this is where the concept of Equality and Equity become important to be addressed. Where Equality is defined as treating everyone the same and giving everyone access to the same opportunities, Equity refers to proportional representation by race, class, gender, etc. in those same opportunities.
To achieve Equity, policies and procedures may result in an unequal distribution of resources. For e.g., let's say a club allows parents and kids to swim in their pool independently; this is Equality, equal access to pool regardless of the age. The kids however, may not be equipped to swim in a regular sized pool, so in order to make the club's pool area inclusive for kids, the club would offer a kid's pool, this is Equity, an additional resource available for kids if needed. Although this seems fair for many parents who wish to take their kids for a swim, occasionally, a kid will demand to be treated as an equal and swim in an adult's pool. That's probably how it works with Period Leaves; well not exactly, I'm just trying to provide an analogy, so don't get offended, not yet.
Let's consider it this way, every employee in an organisation deserves an equal number of leaves that they would usually utilise for a family vacation, or a hobby, or something else. An organisation that provides equal number of leaves to all portrays this Equality. Now let's consider women who take leaves during their periods, in the absence of any additional type of leaves for their periods, these women end up consuming their Personal Leaves. A typical organisation provides 24 days of leave in a year out of which a woman may end up consuming 10 or more or less during her menstrual cycles. How equal does it sound when I say that a woman potentially gets lesser time for family vacations?
Hence, policies like Period Leaves provide Equity that allows women to be treated equally with regards to their rights. If it is still difficult to comprehend, consider working in an organisation that has zero Sick Leaves; how unfair would you feel when you have to apply a personal time-off when you're unwell? I've worked in such organisations and it sucks, in-fact I try to get back to work even if I haven't recovered fully just to save a few leaves which increases the chances of infecting others. Fortunately, my current organisation has an unlimited sick leave policy, yeah, it's great; it allows me to rest fully considering that I'll anyway not be able to give my 100% at work if I'm unwell, it reduces the chances of infecting others, and I still get my complete fun vacation time. And I have seen many women in my organisation who have taken advantage of this policy during their periods, the only thing I dislike about this practice is that women end up applying a Sick Leave during periods.
Having periods is NOT a sickness. And I admire Zomato for calling out a Period Leave very explicitly to make a point that this is NOT a social stigma. Whether a woman wishes to be open about her periods and when, I believe it should be left to her personal discretion. A friend of mine did point out that this will become grounds of inequality if women get portrayed as a weaker sex because of this policy or if this affects organisational processes like biases during recruitment. And humans have a tendency to ruin even the best things so I wouldn't deny that this is a possibility and one must ensure it doesn't happen. Zomato also makes it very clear to report sexual harassment if something like this happens. In conclusion, is the policy equal, no, is it equitable, yes, is that a good thing, mostly yes, can be a may be.
2. Does this policy give a handicap status to women?
The second most common reason for people getting offended was that it possibly gives a handicap status to women, which makes it a condescending policy. Well, it does if the policy makers consider men to be superior than women. That doesn't seem to be the case with Zomato especially because the CEO called out very clearly to his male colleagues to provide the support that their female colleagues ask for. Many drew parallels for this point by relating it to the reservation system, and that would seem unfair if one believes the reservation system to be unfair. We've witnessed posts that pop-up every now and then that state how the reservation system provides an unfair advantage; however any reservation system is actually an answer for Equity over Equality. Can these be misused, of course, we should never under estimate the power of a common man or woman.
But for a moment, let's consider a Period Policy is similar, not the same but similar, to policies for persons with disabilities, is that an offence? Because usually these policies are designed to make organisations more inclusive, isn't it? By the way, a side-note, like how people without disabilities try to find terms to describe people with disabilities like differently abled or physically challenged, both of which are inappropriate terms, people with disabilities also have a term for those who are not, it's called Temporarily Able Bodied or TAB, which is to say that nothing's permanent for anyone. Sometimes old age kicks in and makes walking or hearing or seeing difficult, other times a severe cramp during periods makes it difficult for women to be their usual self. It's not a disability, rather a temporary inability.
So I personally wouldn't equate periods with disability, however, if someone is offended by addressing it as a temporary inability, that would be a choice. Just like any good reservation system, policies like these are optional in nature, so women who aren't affected by it or don't wish to utilise it may choose not to. This may sound very immature of me when I say, you don't like it don't use it, but that's the beauty of any beneficial policy, it's not mandatory and it's usage is left at the discretion of individuals. Just like annual leave policies where individuals may choose to encash any long pending leaves as per organisational guidelines; or my friend in college who opted to give up his reservation benefits because he could manage without it.
This can however back-fire as one of my friends pointed out; we do occasionally use the term strong women who may be a CEO who's always in office, or a Politician who does not hesitate to breastfeed during a parliamentary proceeding; will we be comfortable to have a leader of a nation who's away during a war due to her periods? And these are pretty good questions to understand how open we are to these situations as a society. The answer is, I don't know. What I do know, is firstly, these may be exceptions and must be treated exceptionally, and secondly, if a policy is created, it's usually because someone asked for it. Rarely does it happen that policies get created to demean a group of people in an organisation. And may be the modern woman is weaker than her grand-mother, something that was said by someone in one of the social media posts; but if that's true, isn't that more of a reason to care for each other? Or is a struggle always necessary to prove one's vigour?
In conclusion, does this policy give a woman a handicap status, yes from the stand point of temporary inability to be their usual self. Is that a bad thing, may be not, for instance, I wear spectacles which if broken I will have temporary inability to see. Is this offensive? Not for those who have for long asked for this support system, others may choose to ignore.
3. Can this policy be misused?
The third most common concern was that these special leaves can be misused. Of course, there's always a possibility. Isn't that true with any other policy? In one of my previous organisations, I was once in a meeting with my HR head finalising a work from home policy. The policy was defined as, an employee cannot have more than 2 consecutive days of work from home and the work from home days cannot be Monday or Friday. Sounds weird right? But the explanation was that it was observed that there was loss of productivity when people worked from home, whatever productivity meant, and instances had occurred where people had taken long weekends under work from home. So the policy sounded fair as a privilege or benefit for the employees. However, when asked how many such violations had occurred, the answer was 1 in 50 and that's when it sounded unjust to restrict a benefit for thousands of employees instead of taking action against 2% of the workforce.
And then the pandemic happened and thousands of organisations transitioned to working from home. This wasn't a reality for many until now. Many organisations still had desktops for their employees which made mobility impossible. But six months into the pandemic, work from home has pretty much become a norm. So why was my previous employer restricting its work from home policy? You possibly have the answer by now, its pretty much a trust issue. Trust takes time to build for many and even more to repair if broken. And although I welcome Zomato's Period Leave Policy, this is probably a place where I think they can do much better.
Zomato in its blog makes a few things very clear by stating that this leave must be taken only if needed through an established process and must not be misused. Building onto my previous point, policies are usually established because someone asked for it and an organisation must put some guidelines around it, but in the end, trust their employees to follow rules diligently. Zomato does this well, but where it fails is the justification it provides for restricting Period Leaves to 10 days.
It states that the leaves are limited to 10 because most women have ~14 menstrual cycles in a year and adjusting for the probability of having their periods on a weekend 10 seems rightful. Also, women can only take one period leave for each menstrual cycle. This sounds very scientific but seems similar to my work from home policy example. Every woman deals with her periods differently, for some its the beginning that's problematic, for some it's the end, for some it's the mid, and for some all days can be hellish. The limited number of women I interacted with did very clearly state that they don't wish to be bogged down my periods and they have sorted out ways to get back to their routine as soon as possible, some even resort to anti-spasm medication. If that's the level of commitment that people have, then why resort to justifications and limitations instead of trusting the employees to utilise their leaves diligently?
If this leads to women becoming weaker as claimed by one of the social media posts, at least in perception, or if this leads to imbalance in acceptance of inclusion and diversity, yes, that would be a bad thing. But that hasn't happened yet and checks can be put in place to ensure that doesn't happen. Zomato did that by asking its male employees to support their female colleagues; the 10 & 1 day restriction however may exclude a portion, may be a minor portion of women who will not get the benefits of this policy. Ironically, the leader of the organisation from my work from home policy example did give me one advise that I value the most - when it comes to trust, start at a 100%, and hope it doesn't fall. Value comes much quicker when we don't have to wait for trust to build.
So in conclusion, can this policy be misused, of course, should that be grounds to not trust our people, come on.
So there you have it, three most talked about points regarding Zomato