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Interview about GrowthGirls’ Paid Menstrual Leave

In 2023, Effie Bersoux normalized menstrual leave at Growthgirls. What influenced her decision, how easy was it to implement, and how did it affect the company's operation?
Effie Chatzigiannopoulou-Bersoux on menstrual leave

In a recent dialogue hosted by Women On Top, Effie Chatzigiannopoulou-Bersoux, the visionary behind the pioneering growth marketing agency GrowthGirls, shared insights into her groundbreaking initiative to normalize menstrual leave within the corporate sphere, framing it as an essential right for women. Effie emphasized that fostering a workplace environment rooted in trust and empathy not only enhances productivity but also elevates overall job satisfaction. She delved into the potential challenges of enacting such a policy and the broader implications it could have as a beacon for progressive corporate practices.

Effie, who established GrowthGirls in 2019, quickly propelled the agency to prominence, securing engagements with several Fortune 500 companies. The agency distinguishes itself by its holistic approach to corporate growth, melding data analytics with innovative strategy, and boasts a global footprint spanning the Americas, Europe, and Africa.

In August 2023, Effie undertook the meticulous task of integrating voluntary menstrual leave into GrowthGirls’ operational policies. This avant-garde policy allows any employee in need to take up to 8 hours off each month for menstrual-related reasons, without the necessity of accumulating these hours or transferring them to the following month. In a move that respects the personal nature of menstruation, the company refrains from demanding medical certification for such absences, treating them akin to conventional sick leave. Notably, these hours are compensated as regular work hours, and, in a gesture of support, female employees receive a monthly stipend to offset the cost of menstrual products.

This conversation with Effie comes in the wake of Spain’s landmark legislation on paid menstrual leave, marking it as the inaugural European nation to adopt such a measure. The dialogue with Women On Top offered a profound glimpse into the transformative impact this policy has had on GrowthGirls and its team, positioning the company at the forefront of a significant shift towards more inclusive and empathetic workplace cultures.

What are the main employer(s) concerns in implementing such a policy?

In corporate policy innovation, my company’s introduction of menstrual leave was met with initial trepidation. As the proprietor, I was particularly concerned about its reception among employees who wouldn’t directly benefit from it and the safeguards against its potential misuse. Additionally, there was uncertainty about the policy’s effect on our day-to-day operations and the overarching productivity of our workforce. To mitigate some of these concerns, I instituted specific protocols, but fundamentally, I relied on the cornerstone of our success: the integrity and dedication of our team members.

The outcome was a revelation. Contrary to fears of diminished output, we witnessed a notable increase in productivity. This positive shift supports the notion that affording employees the opportunity for necessary rest and recuperation can significantly boost their long-term efficiency and efficacy. More importantly, the adoption of menstrual leave has nurtured a more supportive and empathetic workplace environment, contributing to a palpable improvement in our company culture. This subtle yet profound transformation highlights the impact that thoughtful and inclusive policies can have on an organization, enhancing both employee morale and overall productivity.

What are some personal observations on the team’s performance and measurable results in productivity?

To begin with the intangibles, the introduction of menstrual leave in our company has fostered a deeper connection with my team, bringing a sense of moral fulfillment in aligning our workplace policies with what I believe to be ethically just. It also provided a window into the often-underrated work ethic of our employees, a quality that remains elusive until directly observed. Contrary to the concerns that such a policy might be prone to misuse, our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Many employees, despite being eligible for the leave, chose not to take it, underscoring a culture of mutual support rather than individual advantage. Those who did take the leave made concerted efforts to ensure their absence did not disrupt the workflow, a testament to their commitment and professionalism.

Our approach has been to maintain rigorous coordination in task management, thereby minimizing emergencies and ensuring that the operation runs smoothly even in the face of planned absences. This has underscored the importance of a structured pre-planning phase for companies considering the implementation of paid menstrual leave, to integrate it seamlessly into existing work processes without hindering operational efficiency. Surprisingly, our analysis revealed that productivity did not suffer as a result of the policy; in fact, it improved. This suggests that allowing the body and mind the rest they need can have long-term benefits for performance. Perhaps most significantly, the policy has had a profound impact on the workplace atmosphere, contributing to a more positive team spirit that is, in many ways, priceless.

The shift away from traditional stoicism in the face of discomfort to a more compassionate workplace reflects a broader cultural change, challenging the notion that suffering in silence is a norm to be accepted without question.

How did the employees receive the measure and what were their most frequent questions? What measures have you taken to ensure that it is not considered unfair treatment and that the leave is not abused?

The introduction of menstrual leave at our company was met with an almost palpable sigh of relief from the team. Initially, I hadn’t fully grasped the breadth of challenges my employees faced during their menstrual cycles. It was only after the policy was in place that many felt comfortable sharing their experiences, highlighting a culture where enduring in silence was the norm until explicitly addressed. In England, we refer to “presenteeism” — the phenomenon of employees being physically present but functionally disengaged due to health or other issues. This, as it became evident, was a counterproductive norm we inadvertently upheld.

The predominant reaction to the new leave policy was one of incredulous gratitude. Early on, I fielded numerous inquiries rooted in a “too good to be true” skepticism, with team members frequently asking, “Am I sure I won’t be causing any issues by taking this leave?” Interestingly, those unaffected by the policy exhibited a remarkable level of understanding and trust, effectively normalizing the procedure to the point where it ceased to be a focal point of discussion. This, in my view, is a positive development; the goal was never to spotlight the beneficiaries of the policy but rather to embed it as a fundamental, unquestioned right — a move toward a more humane and equitable workplace.

This initiative underscores a broader responsibility within corporate leadership — not only to guard against discrimination and harassment but to address systemic issues through comprehensive education and training, all while honoring the dignity and emotional realities of our employees.

How would you respond to employees’ concerns about any sexist treatment, discrimination and harassment they may experience because of making their menstruation period known?

The onus of addressing workplace phenomena such as discrimination and harassment squarely falls on the shoulders of the company, not its employees. It is incumbent upon corporate leadership not only to safeguard against such injustices but also to confront these challenges head-on through comprehensive educational initiatives and training programs that honor the intelligence and emotions of every team member. Approaching these issues with empathy is crucial. In Greece, for instance, many employees may have been educated in schools lacking in sex education and raised in environments where gender biases were the norm. A company, however, operates as a microcosm of society with the unique advantage of selecting its constituents and establishing its own norms, thereby holding the power to extinguish such outdated prejudices.

The introduction of menstrual leave in my organization serves as a prime example of proactive leadership. Far from engendering sexist attitudes, the policy was met with universal acclaim across our team. This positive reception was, in no small part, due to the transparent and open manner in which the policy was communicated, underpinned by a willingness to engage in ongoing dialogue and address any questions or concerns.

This initiative aligns with the broader recognition of what is often termed “feminine leadership style,” marked by heightened empathy, collaboration, and flexibility. It is increasingly evident that women’s success in leadership roles is not in spite of their inherent traits but rather because of them, underscoring the value of diverse leadership styles in the modern corporate landscape.

Many women try to advance professionally by downplaying such displays of gender diversity, to prove that they are just as tough, capable and reliable as their male colleagues. What are your thoughts on this approach?

The inclination to conceal or alter aspects of oneself, especially when those traits are perceived as barriers to success, is a phenomenon with which many can empathize. In a cultural landscape where being likened to a “man” is paradoxically seen as a compliment for a woman, it’s not uncommon for some to internalize misogynistic attitudes, leading to a troubling internal conflict.

The question then arises: Is concealing one’s gender diversity a viable strategy for women aiming for success? The stark reality is that such an approach leads nowhere positive, fostering a scenario where one’s identity is diminished to the point of invisibility, all in the bid not to “disturb.” This path inevitably becomes a self-defeating struggle.

However, we are witnessing a transformative era where the connotations attached to words and roles are being reevaluated. The narrative is shifting to acknowledge that women embody strength, capability, and reliability, even in the face of challenges like dysmenorrhea or the necessity of maternity leave. Internationally, progressive organizations are recognizing the value of “feminine leadership,” attributing traits such as empathy, collaboration, and adaptability as key drivers of corporate success. It’s becoming clear that women’s achievements stem not from overcoming their inherent characteristics but from leveraging them.

As society grapples with discussions on diversity and the essence of gender, it appears these debates might soon be rendered obsolete by emerging perspectives. The forthcoming generation brings with it a fresh, ‘different’ outlook, signaling a departure from the pseudo-dilemmas that have long occupied our discourse.

In what ways can we cultivate the mindset of companies to incorporate menstrual leave into their policies?

In marketing, the power of authenticity and the compelling nature of storytelling far surpass the persuasive capacity of data and statistics. It is imperative that employees, employers, and individuals with pertinent experiences are provided with a platform like “Women on Top” to share their narratives in a safe and supportive environment. As an entrepreneur and employer, I stand before you today to affirm that not only is the adoption of progressive workplace measures feasible, but it also yields significant positive outcomes for businesses. Companies striving to position themselves as desirable workplaces are increasingly attuned to the needs and aspirations of their employees, recognizing the necessity of embracing such initiatives to remain competitive. Understanding the potential benefits of menstrual leave is the first step; subsequent adaptation, particularly for varying organizational sizes and requirements, can be effectively facilitated through guidance from specialized professionals.

The prevalence of conditions such as endometriosis, affecting 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, and dysmenorrhea, impacting more than half of the female population, presents a compelling case for governmental and organizational intervention. These statistics underscore the urgency and importance of addressing women’s health issues in both policy-making and corporate spheres.

Ultimately, does the responsibility fall on companies to take such initiatives or are there moves we can make to enact corresponding policies and governments?

Our democratic framework envisions citizen participation in governance through elected representatives, a process in which the role of women politicians is particularly pivotal. My own journey as a female entrepreneur, and the personal experiences that guided me to implement progressive policies within my company, mirrors the necessity for such representation in the political sphere. However, a dose of realism is essential in this discourse.

While governments are navigating multiple challenges, it’s conceivable that initiatives like menstrual leave may not be at the forefront of the legislative agenda. Yet, the impetus for change need not solely rest on the shoulders of the state. Small and medium-sized enterprises, known for their agility, can spearhead this evolution, serving as paragons for both political leaders and the broader society. True change is propelled not just by demand but by proactive action.

When considering state-level interventions, the backing of scientific evidence is paramount, underscoring the critical role of the academic and research community. The prevalence of conditions such as endometriosis, affecting 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, and dysmenorrhea, experienced by more than half of all women, demands governmental attention. Moreover, there is a valuable opportunity to draw lessons from nations that have already embraced such policies, allowing us to adapt proven strategies rather than starting from scratch.

As a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome, I suffer from excruciating pain throughout my period. The stigma associated with menstrual leave increases gender discrimination by singling out women who need time off and implying that they are less “useful” than men. Growthgirls, however, proves otherwise. Our CEO, Effie Bersoux, offers us the opportunity to take menstrual leave every month out of understanding and respect for the women in our company. As a result, we have built strong relationships of respect, our productivity has increased (when people feel respected, they are more productive) and the company has prospered. And if you’re still not convinced that menstrual leave works, just take a look at our stats. The truth is in the numbers.

Sofia Evangelidou, Growth Marketer at GrowthGirls

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