When sanitary napkin advertisements showcase women as unstoppable and empowered to do what they may, even during that time of the month, the first day of period leave may not really make much sense.
Flexi-timings, remote working policies and a host of other enablers now allow a level playing field to men and women in the professional arena. Yet, undeniably, the fairer sex needs some additional flexibilities to juggle their personal and professional lives. The biological differences are to blame for the maternity benefits women receive, while men are only allowed a week or two of paternity leave. However, sometimes, even the most thoughtful acts backed by good intention, may cause a reverse effect.
For instance, when the new Maternity Benefits Act came into being, some organisations struggled to implement it due to business and cost concerns. Smaller firms, especially, had a tough time. Consequently, the unfortunate practice of asking women candidates uncomfortable questions about marriage and family plans increased. Organisations increasingly began viewing women talent as more of a cost and liability than as a long-term investment in real talent.
With that, when recently a few organisations introduced a ‘first day of period leave’, most women rejoiced and it seemed to be a great gender-sensitive move. However, this also led to debates, and experts believe it can do more harm than good to women in the workplace.
Ironically, while the sanitary napkin advertisements showcase women as unstoppable and empowered to do what they may, even during that time of the month, this first day of period leave may not make much sense. When women can play tennis, ride bikes, fly planes and go trekking while on their periods, why can’t they work in a cosy office or in the comfort of their homes if a flexi-policy allows that. Why take a leave?
Vasudha Nandal –VP, human capital management, Sulekha.com, does not agree with the idea of having a first day of period leave. She believes that it may go against women, creating another glass ceiling for them. “Most women are already asked personal questions during hiring—questions about their plans to get married or have children and so on—hampering their growth. Why should women have to share such personal details with the employer and why should the whole team or employer get to know about something as intimate as a women’s monthly cycle?”
On the other hand, Mangesh Bhide, technology HR-head, Reliance Jio Infocomm argues that if women are not different, then what is the need for the extended maternity benefits as well? It is good to acknowledge the challenges women specifically have to go through, but a periods’ leave implies that we still try to govern people as if they are bonded labour. “In times of flexi-work policies, if we still need a leave for this, then it is a matter for concern,” he says.
What women really need for an organic growth in the workplace is a level-playing field and a little extra understanding. Nandal says that the regular 10–12 days of sick leave most organisations offer should suffice. However, she further suggests that effective flexi-work policies and a few extra sick leaves can help women sail through these difficult times, if any.
Bhide is also of the view that with strong flexi-time and work from home policies, there is no need for a period leave. Instead, women should be allowed to work from home without any questions asked, whenever they need it.
Vasudha Nandal Mangesh Bhide
“Those who want to misuse such policies or flexibilities will anyway do that, but that will only reflect in their performance, sooner or later. However, women should be allowed these flexibilities without much hue and cry raised, and they certainly will be more productive then,”
Having said that, there are various other reasons why the periods’ leave may not make much sense. Every woman is different and the intensity or frequency of the monthly cycle one experiences also varies. Not everyone may have an uncomfortable period or really need to take time off, each month. “And what about women who suffer from menorrhagia or polymenorrhea (longer and heavier periods which may last for even 20 days) and those nearing menopause with scarce periods,” both Nandal and Bhide argue.
Equality is reality in the current times and what workers of the day — be it men or women —need, is to be treated as equals and be given a fair chance to work and grow together. While empowerment and flexibility needs for women are much talked about in the workplace, even modern men need flexibility or time off for family. They also willingly shoulder childcare and household responsibilities, as their working spouse shoulders financial and other burdens, mostly perceived as a man’s duty.
By introducing a periods’ leave, organisations may just be creating more trouble for women in the longer run. Let the women be! Organisations should rather focus on strengthening their flexi-work policies to suit both genders, as and when they need to take advantage of the same.