Indian startups might be mired in crores of losses, but they’re still experimenting with some controversial HR ideas.
Zomato has introduced the concept of “period leaves” for women. Women employees at Zomato will now get 10 extra days off a year. “Ladies, How many times have you had to send a message to your team saying “unwell today – taking the day off” and having to answer concerned questions about your health with a feeble “stomach upset / weakness etc.” when you really wanted to say “on my period, terrible cramps – need a heating pad, some chocolate and a lot of green tea (or something stronger) so I’m taking the day off”?” Zomato wrote on its blog. “At Zomato, we want to foster a culture of trust, truth and acceptance. Starting today, all women (including transgender people) at Zomato can avail up to 10 days of period leaves in a year,” Zomato added.
Zomato said that women have 14 menstrual cycles in a year, but expects some of these to fall on weekends, so the company has decided to give 10 period leaves. Women will be able to apply for one period leave per cycle, and will be expected to tell colleagues that they’re on their period leaves.
While this might seem progressive, there have been some prominent female voices that have been extremely critical of period leaves. Barkha Dutt has called period leaves a “rubbish idea.” “First-day period leave” may be dressed up as progressive, but it actually trivializes the feminist agenda for equal opportunity, especially in male-dominated professions,” she’d written for the Washington Post. “Worse, it reaffirms that there is a biological determinism to the lives of women, a construct that women of my generation have spent years challenging. Remember all those dumb jokes by male colleagues about “that time of the month” or PMS? Well, this idea only serves to emphasize that there is something spectacularly otherworldly about a bodily function,” she had added.
I think period leave is a rubbish idea.
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) September 3, 2017
Also, the effects of such affirmative action at times have been the opposite of what was intended. According to a survey by LocalCirclecs in March this year, 49% of early stage startups and small businesses said they had hired fewer or no women after the government had introduced a six-month paid maternity leave for women, citing the higher cost of complying with the policy. 33% startups said that they had hired the same number of women, while only 16% said they had hired more women after the 6-month paid maternity leave policy was introduced.
Even in relatively mature companies like Zomato, giving women employees 10 extra leaves a year might not only create some consternation among male employees, who might wonder why they’re receiving the same amount of pay while working longer hours as their female counterparts, but also create artificial glass ceilings for women employees. For high-pressure posts, companies might be tempted to prefer men over women: with everything else being equal, would a company want to hire a CEO that works all the time, versus a CEO that takes an additional 10 days off? Zomato, though, seems to be going ahead with the move, and how the move pans out will likely determine if the policy will be carried on in the future.