Government Digital Service pays for staff tampons in bid to become more female-friendly

GDS women's group convinces leadership that sanitary products are not a “luxury item”

By Jonathan Owen

26 Sep 2016

The Government Digital Service has decided to provide free tampons and sanitary towels to women workers as part of an attempt to make it a more female-friendly employer.

Details of the new scheme were revealed to delegates at the Women into Leadership conference – hosted by CSW’s parent company Dods and the FDA union – in London.

During a session on digital engagement at the event, Zara Farrar, head of the GDS women’s group, said staff now have free tampons and sanitary towels due to a combination of “months of [presenting] business cases” and “just saying the word tampon enough times to senior men”.

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She argued that sanitary products are not a “luxury item” and are a lot more necessary than the free milk they get in the kitchen.

The move symbolises a wider change taking place throughout GDS, which was kicked off by the creation of the women’s group at the start of 2015.

In a previous interview, Farrar told CSW’s sister site that before its creation, sexism had been “rife” in some parts of the service. However the difference since the group raised these issues with senior management, she said, had been “unbelievable”.

Unconscious bias training, which has already been given to senior staff, is now being rolled out across the organisation, and GDS is trying to ensure that job descriptions are written in a way which will appeal to women. Another development is having mixed-gender interview panels.

Farrar also told delegates how the problems within GDS reflect a wider issue in society, where technology is still promoted as being something for boys rather than girls.

Despite growing numbers of women in work, the proportion employed in tech and digital is small – with women accounting for just one in seven IT professionals, according to Farrar. This is partially due to a lack of interest, with women “taught at a really early age that tech is for boys and it’s not for us”.

But women need to get involved and become part of the “conversation” when it comes to technology, to ensure they are not “excluded” from the advantages it offers, she told delegates.

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