After two Indian organizations (Culture Machine and Gozoop), decided to offer their female employees a day off on the first day of their periods, the move turned into a national debate of sorts. It has been hailed as liberating and forward-thinking, but it has also triggered several negative reactions. Some people have termed it as regressive because women have been fighting tooth and nail to ensure that menstruation is not treated as a sickness. And that this policy only reaffirms the patriarchal mindset of people.
So in order to delve deeper into the issue, we interviewed Devleena S. Majumdar (President – Human Resources with Culture Machine) and Rohan Bhansali (Co Founder and Director, Gozoop) who discuss about how this is an attempt to overcome the taboo surrounding menstruation, and more.
This debate (menstrual leave policy) has been on since a long time. What made you decide you want to initiate this?
Devleena S Majumdar, Culture Machine: More than a policy, I would say, this is a gesture towards working women. We are a fairly young organisation with an average age group of 26-27 years (our employees). Our female employee representation is 35 percent, which is quite healthy. So we thought that this time we should have a policy which is woman-centric because this is a common problem. We understand that not everyone goes through period cramps or uneasiness on the first day, but most of us do. I used to a few years back. The other thing is that we are digital content creators. Blush, which is a huge inspiration to me, is a woman-centric channel that talks about women issues and empowerment. So the point here is, if we can create such content, why not come up with policies which are aligned to my content?
Rohan Bhansali, Gozoop: Open communication has always been a part of the Gozoop culture. And with that, we realized how a few women in our organisation suffered a certain discomfort during their periods. Our leadership team debated the issue and, in line with our vision of building the greatest workplace, we decided to take this decision.
How did the women in your organization react to the news?
Devleena: They celebrated this. They are happy, proud and honoured to be a part of this. Most of them have painted the town red and overall, it is a very happy atmosphere.
Rohan: What do you think? Of course, they were ecstatic but more than anything else, they felt heard and cared for. The feedback to our HR Head, Bansi Raja, was phenomenal. We are a better, more mature workplace post this announcement.
Devleena S Majumdar, President – People and Culture, Culture Machine
How will you go about this since for a lot of women, the dates may vary? Will there be some sort of flexibility with the leaves? And how is the woman expected to approach for the leave when, say, she wishes to be discreet about it?
Devleena: It is not possible that everybody is going to apply for an FOP on the very same date. And I don’t see productivity should be an issue because in the digital day and age, you can work from anywhere. See, if there is proper succession planning in the organisation and proper distribution of work, there is always a backup. Productivity will never be affected by it. And it’s an optional day off so you may or may not apply for it. Having said that, the HR processes are automated. So we can always track the employees who are taking a leave and anyway, it is one day a month.
Rohan: Our policy smartly offers 6 additional paid leaves to women in a year which translates to 12 work-from-home days in a year. So she may take the leave at her own discretion. Also, there were a lot of discussions about the need to be discreet. How does a woman tell her supervisor that she is menstruating? And we also believe that cultural sensitivities and privacy should be respected. Which is why, we decided to automate the process. A Gozooper choosing to avail the leave needs to simply apply for it on our ESS portal and approval is automatic. The choice to have a conversation about it with her reporting manager rests with her.
How did the men in your organization react to this decision? Did you also face questions such as, “Why are women getting preferential treatment,” and so on? Also, is this move intended to sensitize men and normalize the conversation around menstruation (to eliminate the taboo)?
Devleena: I think we are very lucky because men these days seem to be very progressive. They all welcomed the policy whole-heartedly and even celebrated it with chocolates. Also, if you’ve seen our video which has gone viral now, it has been created by a male employee who is a part of the Blush team.
Having said that, I would say I was prepared for negative reactions. And my only answer to that is that even though I completely believe in equality, but then, at a biological level, can we be equal? And this is the reason why we also have maternity leaves. In some countries you have one full year of maternity leave. So if you ask me, if this is the loss of productivity or it is unequal treatment, then my answer is: I don’t think so. If the biological cycle calls for it, you can’t help it. And again, I maintain, it is an optional leave. It is not for all.
I have always maintained how productivity is a state of mind. So no matter which part of the globe you are in, as long as you’re dedicated and passionate about your work, then that wouldn’t hamper productivity and creativity at all.
Rohan: The reaction across the board was supportive. Of course, there were certain points brought up but then, the pros outweighed the cons. In fact the day the policy was announced, it was the men who cheered the loudest. This policy has definitely sensitized us in the organisation. It may or may not normalise the taboo completely, but it is a step in the right direction. The way our team took the decision demonstrated that we are a mature organisation.
Rohan Bhansali, Co Founder & Director, Gozoop
There have been counter-arguments and debates about the whole issue where some people state how this is rather a regressive idea (and an anti thesis to what feminists have been talking about, that is, equality). What do you have to say about that?
Devleena: What is regressive? Suppose I have my cramps in the morning and I am calling my boss and faking it saying, “Oh you know, I’m sick or I have a headache”. So is being honest and being open about my menstrual cycle regressive? If I say, “First day is the day I really can’t handle it,” will that be called regressive? And for all those who think this will be a sign of weakness being displayed by women, my question is: is pregnancy a sign of weakness? While some people have very difficult pregnancies, for others it may be a smooth process. Some choose cesarean, while some prefer a normal delivery. How does it make you weak and strong? Similarly, with your menstrual cycle, you could be perfectly alright while the other person could go through severe cramps. It is all part of the cycle. I was a sportsperson in my school days and I’ve never taken a day off. I’ve never stopped myself from getting into sports activities while I was menstruating because it was not that pronounced. But for some friends, I could see they would writhe in pain.
Rohan: Where there is a decision, there is always debate. At Gozoop, we believe in equality. Everyone has a different definition of feminism and to each, his/her own. We initiated this policy because we wanted to create an environment where women could work freely and focus on the work they are doing. Our menstrual policy offers women the opportunity to work from home, one day a month. So when it comes to productivity and work expectation, they are the same for both men and women. The only difference is that women can choose to do the same work from the comfort of their home on those days. In this way our policy is vastly different from what other companies are doing. We are encouraging more women at the workforce instead of making them a liability to the organisation. Infact, the number of women we have hired since this announcement has only increased because talent knows no gender.
Some are also of the view that women need specialized medical care for endometriosis (a painful condition), rather than a leave every month. Your views?
Devleena: Well, we don’t deny that. But as an organisation, the best I can do is to give them a leave. It is also a very subjective thing because say, I may need care, while you may not. Rather than being intrusive and going and asking who needs such care, just call for an optional day off. That’s all I’m saying. And this is also another way of maintaining transparency. This helps women who are hush-hush about it to be more open about it.
Rohan: Well, it shouldn’t have to be an either-or situation. As I said, to each his own. For the kind of workplace that we want to build, this is the right decision. Different companies have different priorities. We have demonstrated where our priorities lie.
Some say this policy might also be taken advantage of by employees. So what are your views about it?
Devleena: I feel trust is the biggest step towards productivity. If you don’t trust your employees, they will not trust you. An employee can fake a sick leave too. What’s the big deal in that? Since we trust our employees, they trust us as well. I don’t think people here in the organisation are going to get intrusive and probe into whether one is actually menstruating or faking it.
Rohan: My team has trusted me and my company to build their lives in. They spend more time at Gozoop than with their own family. That’s huge trust and commitment that they have placed on us. There could be some looking to take advantage, but they become insignificant when compared to the greater good.