Arriving a little late at the March 4 Justice rally at Parliament House in Canberra on 15 March, 2021, Dr Kath Kovac heard one of the final speakers say, “We need a supportive sisterhood in the workplace.”
“That’s what I do,” thought Dr Kovac, a science editor who works from home in Dalton, north of Canberra. She wants to train women, beginning with those working at Parliament House, in all the benefits of a women’s circle.
Dr Kovac says that since ancient times, a women’s circle has enabled women to connect, communicate and bond with one another. The idea of bringing them to work has been on her mind since a friend invited her to a mother-and-daughter circle in the Blue Mountains four years ago.
In that circle, girls learned about menstruation and how to destigmatise it so they would know what to expect when their first period arrived. Rather than hiding their period, they were taught to celebrate it.
“Our culture celebrates falling pregnant and having a child, but everything else about our menstrual cycle is still taboo,” says Dr Kovac, who teaches tai chi and meditation, and organises community women’s circles outside of her editing business.
“Over [the course of] a month, a woman’s hormones biologically govern what’s happening inside her body,” she says. “They affect your mood, your energy levels, your entire life, basically.”
Dr Kovac believes working women need to understand this because workplaces are designed around performing nine to five at the same level every day of the month. That demand only works for someone with a full-time person at home doing housework, picking up the children from child care or school, looking after ageing parents, and doing the shopping – all roles still largely filled by women.
Many women also struggle through their cycles with endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, or other reproductive menstrual issues, most of which are exacerbated by tiredness and fatigue.
Dr Kovac says if women are able to work more flexibly around their cycle, around their demands of work and home, they would be less tired and could be much more productive at work.
Since the Parliament House rally, she has developed circle-based training modules to help women develop deep listening skills and support other women, rather than competing with them or undermining them.
She says quotas for women are not really a solution. Nor is striving for ‘equality’ in the workforce.
“Women are not men,” she says. “We are different. And if you treat men and women the same, what you are really doing is treating them all like men.
“I started a women’s circle in Gunning three years ago. Afterwards, women came and said, ‘Wow, I never felt so connected to people; I felt so safe.’
“I saw their transformation and thought this can work in society like it always has – apart from during the past 500 years when women were systematically discouraged and even prevented from gathering in groups to support each other.
“So I thought, ‘Why can’t it work in the workplace?’”
Meeting face-to-face, listening and having an equal chance to speak allows women to connect, communicate and grow, says Dr Kovac. The bonding hormone, oxytocin, the same one that increases when a mother breastfeeds her baby, is produced when women gather and feel relaxed and safe.
This is what happens in a circle, enabling women to bond on a physical level. From that place, a true connection can build between women working together.
Dr Kovac’s training is not about sidelining or alienating men – quite the opposite.
“When women feel completely safe, supported and at ease in their working environment, everyone benefits – both the women and the men they work with,” she says.
Her training service, Kupala, is named for the Slavic goddess of water, fire and nature.
“My dad was a displaced person from Yugoslavia who came to Australia in the 1950s and married my Aussie mum in the 1960s,” says Dr Kovac. “I wanted to acknowledge the Croatian half of my heritage in my business name.”
Dr Kovac will also soon be presenting a radio segment called ‘Women Rising’ on Yass FM 100.3 on Tuesday afternoons between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm.
“I want to give local women a voice to talk about issues that are important to them as women living in today’s society.”