It’s become commonplace in the start-up business world to provide certain office perks for employees, such as healthy nut and grain bars, dipped in chocolate to kill the vitamins, or the Millennial version of Old Miss Frothingslosh, the stale pale ale with the foam on the bottom. It keeps employees at work and caters to their fond memories of mommy bringing Cheetos to them while they sat on the basement couch playing Mortal Kombat. Good times.
But do something nice and, naturally, it’s problematic.
I run a small but growing start-up and employ many young female employees. As is standard for the start-up world, we buy kitchen items for our staff, including snacks, beer and wine, paper towels and facial tissues. We have a board in the break area that we use to remind me what items we are getting low on.
My employees keep putting feminine sanitary items on that board. I quizzed building maintenance and found that these items are for sale in all the ladies’ restrooms for 25 cents each. Should I be buying these items with corporate money, and how can I justify it one way or the other?
While I’m not entirely clear on the wisdom of providing beer and wine for employees at work, unless the start-up is engaged in the design of gender-neutral fashion accessories, if that’s what it takes to get them to show up around ten o’clock to start work, so be it.
The New York Times has a “Dear Abbey”-type advice column “work friend,” Megan Greenwell, fresh off her gig as Editor-in-Chief of Deadspin.
Deadspin’s editor in chief has left the company, saying the new leadership of parent company G/O Media have made it “impossible” for her to continue working there.
“I have been repeatedly undermined, lied to, and gaslit in my job,” Megan Greenwell said in a brief phone call with The Daily Beast on Friday.
Clearly, a natural to give advice to businesses, and so she does.
How nice that you keep your staff well fed and with access to multiple booze options. While it is of course not necessary for workers to have access to Kind bars and hazy IPAs in the office, it is a nice way for you to show them that their happiness matters.
In the old days, employers showed employees that their “happiness matters” by paying them every two weeks, and they could then use their income to buy whatever turned their frown upside down.
You know what is absolutely necessary for workers to have access to? Tampons and pads! Why are we having a conversation about how to justify the cost of necessary hygiene products when kegs and chardonnay are considered essential!
Greenwell is now an editor at Wired, well known for its slavish devotion to logic and critical thinking, which explains why she has none left for the Times. First, the writer didn’t say, or even suggest, that “kegs and chardonnay are considered essential!” But it was a necessary creation to ground her adorably cute opening sentence about how tampons are also “absolutely necessary” for workers.
Workers? I’ve worked. Tampons were never a necessity for either my work or me. There is something awry in Greenwell’s argument.
Your well-compensated employees also could surely afford their own snacks, but you have made the wise decision that offering some options is a cheap and easy way to make people more satisfied at work. Now you want to undo all that good will by telling a significant portion of those people that you can’t “justify” the cost of products they need for their physical health. A box of 96 tampons will run you 15 bucks at Costco, which is a small price to pay to not look like a total jerk.
There could be a different problem that shockingly eludes Greenwell’s business-brain. Everything provided can be equally enjoyed by employees of any gender. But it seems the female employees want the boss to provide a free perk that can neither be eaten nor imbibed, but rather employed by only those employees who menstruate. These employees used to be called women years ago.
This raises two questions which Greenwell, unfortunately, neglects to recognize. First, would providing a employer-paid perk solely for the benefit of one sex violate Title VII or any local law? If the employer provided a company perk that could only be used by male employees, some feathers might properly get ruffled. But men don’t need tampons.
The second question is why the employer, gracious enough to provide the means to get employees drunk in the office, would be a “jerk” for not catering to feminine hygiene needs? If someone was a vegan, would he be a jerk for not providing vegan candy bars? If someone was an alcoholic, would he be a jerk for not providing alcohol-free beer? Would he be a jerk for providing beer at all, thus tempting his alcoholic employee, and instead eliminating the perk so as not to traumatize the one who can’t drink?
Tampons are a battleground in the Gender War. Historically, personal hygiene items were personal, and not an employer benefit. But tampons (and pads) are unique in that they are a necessity, but only for women. There is no male equivalent, and so they stand out as an expense that women, but only women (transgender males notwithstanding), must abide. We all eat. We all drink. We all go to the bathroom. Women menstruate, and so they need tampons.
What are you gonna do about it, boss?
Notably ignored is that this is a one-gender demand when placed on the break-area board. Women want it for women, for themselves. Is it fair that women need tampons when men don’t? Is biology the boss’ fault? Then again, if he provided feminine hygiene products for his workers, would any guy complain that he was being discriminated against?
But there is one more foundational fallacy that Greenwell ignores, for which there is no excuse. If the boss didn’t want to be a jerk to his female workers and provided tampons, what would come of his failure to satisfy the demands of size, shape and structure? As most men eventually come to realize, some pads have wings. One size does not fit all. Who knew? Just another minefield to be traversed with the best of intentions.