Zomato & its many kinds of leave

If you are in India or anywhere else in the world, you have likely heard that earlier this month Zomato introduced 10 days of period leave for its women and transgender employees. The great debate on whether it is or is not the right move has sucked in almost every Indian HR professional. For a long time I stayed at the fringes and then per usual am choosing to dive in.

Most employee benefits elicit little reaction from the HR community. They stay in the news for a while, people usually have mild reactions and then they are either replicated across or ignored. Remember how salary transparency was once a raging topic of discussion and now rarely debated? The first time I heard of Zomato’s move, I digested the information along with few initial reactions and moved on. However, the outcry in the industry kept bringing it back to the surface until I’d had enough. If this was crafted as a PR move, then it is the greatest ever in the history of PR moves.

There are stated needs, unstated needs and then needs you never knew you had. If you came to me as a consumer and asked me for my immediate needs to enable gender inclusion, period leave isn’t something I would have come up with. Had you asked me specifically if this is something I need, I’d likely have said no. However, I am just one person and not representative of the population so I have no idea if they did do an exercise in checking for customer perception and response but often a lot of products launched in the market are ones we never knew we needed. Maybe this is one of them. Because all said and done, who wouldn’t like more leaves? If I can take an extra day off every month, I will take it.

However, the great debate asks not if one likes more leave or doesn’t. It asks if this move helps in abating the stigma related to periods and is a giant leap forward for gender inclusion. In my opinion, it is not. Leaves generally come in three categories – sick leave, annual leave and casual leave. These are rarely further classified as travel leave, hobby leave, parent teacher meet leave, headache leave and so on. If you need time off, you use one of the three available categories. Instead of bifurcating leaves into further categories, a better step would be to encourage employees to utilize them and managers not to questions them. If a person needs to take time off, let them. That’s the behavior we should be driving and solving for.

What has been really interesting in this debate is that almost everyone assumed this to be an extension of sick leave. Arguments against talked about fairness, positive discrimination and how a better approach would have been to bump up the sick leave allocation instead (because obviously women fall sick more often!).  

So do I think this a wise move? Yes, because even though the impact on gender equality is iffy, it demonstrates qualities in an organization I admire:

  • The willingness to take bold bets
  • Of being OK with being misunderstood for long periods of time (pun intended) and
  • For trying to achieve equality even if through ineffective ways because really – right now everyone is just throwing a bunch of solutions in air wondering which ones will stick.

Zomato is popular for progressive practices like 26 weeks of paternity leave and no notice period. These moves have been clear wins even though not easy to execute. Maybe we’ll look back three years later and attribute period leaves as another feather in their cap or if it didn’t work as hoped, I hope they have the courage to roll it back, write another blog post and allow us to learn from their findings. Either ways, I am glad it happened and generated the buzz that it has.

Now can everyone please just stop thinking of these leaves as sick leaves?


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