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Zomato, one of India’s largest food delivery companies, made international headlines this week when its CEO Deepinder Goyal announced a menstrual leave policy for all female and transgender employees. Employees will be permitted to take 10 days off per year as menstrual leave.
In an email to employees, Goyal wrote that “Zomato understands that men and women are born with different biological realities. It is our job to make sure that we make room for our biological needs, while not lowering the bar for the quality of our work and the impact that we create.” He also stated, “There shouldn’t be any shame or stigma attached to applying for a period leave. You should feel free to tell people on internal groups, or emails that you are on your period leave for the day.”
Menstrual leave is still widely controversial. As Emily Matchar from The Atlantic so eloquently puts it: “Do these policies simply further the notion that women are weak, hormonally-addled creatures controlled by their uteri? Or do they encourage more equality by accommodating female workers’ biological demands, much as maternity leave does?”
I spoke to the CEO’s of two women’s health companies, Saalt and Visana Health to learn more about the economic and moral case for menstrual leave.
Why do menstrual leave policies make economic sense?
1) Attraction and retention of talent
Cherie Hoeger, CEO and Co-Founder, Saalt: Today’s millennial workers don’t want just another job, they want to work for a company whose corporate values align with their personal values. The cost of recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training is something that almost every company underestimates. Policies like menstrual leave that help retain great talent can save tens of thousands of dollars for every employee that a company retains. Traditionally, companies spend exorbitant amounts of money on benefits like 401(k)s and stock options to retain the best talent. While those are important, policies that make employees feel supported and understood, and policies that equip people to do their best work, even under difficult circumstances, are policies that will increase loyalty and better improve employee retention in the long run.
2) Greater productivity
Joe Connolly, Founder and CEO of Visana Health: For women with severe menstrual pain due to conditions like endometriosis, productivity at work during menstruation is significantly hindered. Employers are trading presenteeism – when women are at work but are significantly less productive due to menstrual diseases – for menstrual leave. Endometriosis and related diseases can cause significant workplace stress, and employers with progressive menstrual policies demonstrate sympathy for stigmatized menstrual disorders that women often fear disclosing. Ultimately, this results in improved employee satisfaction and reduced turnover.
Hoeger: Goodwill is reciprocal. Employees who feel heard, understood and supported are much more loyal and driven to perform. We have found this to be particularly true with policies that address the real needs of women and menstruators in the workplace that are too often brushed aside, like menstruation and child care. Our employees talk about feeling ashamed at previous jobs when they experienced menstrual cramps or had to visit the restroom often. In contrast, our team knows they can work from home or bring a heating pad to the office without any negative social pressure. We see the way this drives them in their productivity when they are feeling well.
3) Increased Diversity
Hoeger: The often cited McKinsey and Company study “Delivering through Diversity” shows that companies with greater gender diversity outperform companies that lack diversity. “Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. The highest-performing companies on both profitability and diversity had more women in line (i.e., typically revenue-generating) roles than in staff roles on their executive teams.” Enabling and empowering women to stay in leadership positions is statistically proven to improve profits, and having concrete, inclusive policies in place opens more job opportunities to women and members of the transgender community.
Does menstrual leave constitute “special treatment” for women?
Hoeger: It comes down to the difference between equity and equality. Equality would say that affording a benefit to one group that is not provided to another is not fair. Equity, in turn, supports employees where they need support in the workplace. For example, we believe strongly in work-life integration, which means making work work for your life. At Saalt, that ideology led us to offer a free in-office preschool to support a very real need for working parents that’s often left unaddressed and disproportionately affects mothers in the workplace. Although employees without preschool-age children do not benefit directly from this program, it’s also not a place they currently need that support, and that’s okay. Team members recognize the positive results that come from making decisions through the lens of equity, and voice over and over again that they are glad to work for a company where their colleagues’ needs are supported.
Connolly: Even though women constitute half of the workforce, workplaces and policies have been built for the biological realities of being a man. Menstrual leave policies simply acknowledge and accommodate for the reality of being a female.
Why is menstrual leave a better policy than grouping menstrual leave into overall sick leave?
Connolly: Unlike men, women deal with a cyclical, biologically-driven pain that can cause significant discomfort at work. Too often, women have to disguise their menstrual-related leave as “not feeling well today.” Calling out menstrual leave specifically can create psychological comfort for women and allow them to feel safe to use days to stay home.
Hoeger: Acknowledging menstruation as a real need outside of sick leave that warrants being directly addressed in the workplace is long overdue. Having a dedicated menstrual leave policy is a meaningful step forward towards breaking down long-held stigmas around periods. As a female founder in the menstrual care industry, I have a first-hand view into the glaring needs of a stigmatized market that has stifled women’s progress for centuries. Lack of safe, long-term period care products is the number one reason menstruators drop out of school or miss work. When school days and work hours are missed, menstruators fall behind, affecting their grades, pay, and promotion eligibility.
By simply talking about periods in the workplace in a tone that carries no shock or shame, you can create a shift in the workforce mindset that spurs progress.
In his email’s final words Goyal says, “A note for men – our female colleagues expressing that they are on their period leave shouldn’t be uncomfortable for us. This is a part of life, and while we don’t fully understand what women go through, we need to trust them when they say they need to rest this out. I know that menstrual cramps are very painful for a lot of women – and we have to support them through it if we want to build a truly collaborative culture at Zomato.”
Saalt is changing the menstrual care industry by creating a high-performance menstrual cup aimed to simplify period care for every menstruator. Through Saalt’s mission of empowering people to care for their periods in a healthy and sustainable way, they are engaging an audience to help end menstrual shame and investing in menstrual health. Since their launch in 2018, Saalt has donated over 12,000 cups to people in need.
About Visana Health:
Visana Health is a women’s digital health platform that empowers women to access comprehensive, best-practice care for stigmatized menstrual diseases such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids. They work with doctors, insurers, and employers to identify women who would benefit and deliver personalized, evidence-based digital programs that allow women to take control of their care through content, provider networks, and health coaching.
Zomato’s mission is better food for more people. It started in 2008 and democratized restaurant discovery to help users find high quality food at restaurants, faster and cheaper. It continues to work with the restaurant industry to create innovative consumption models for both delivery and dining out, in addition to organizing the food supply chain to make sure that people trust and buy restaurant food more than home cooked food.