Karthik Ekambaram

Karthik Ekambaram, VP – Consulting Services, AVTAR Group

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Motherhood in Corporate India

Research shows that the attrition rates are alarmingly high across industries despite having policies in place. Over 60% of Indian women are unsure about the decision of whether to stay or leave after childbirth.

Perhaps one of the most impactful news of the year affecting India’s Gender Diversity measures at its Corporate places was the Maternity Benefits Amendment Bill. Though a huge thrust for India in terms of the rankings in this space (India is now third amongst nations that have the highest number of paid Maternity Leaves), there is a high-decibel debate on how this could in fact be detrimental to women’s workforce participation at large. Social Media platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, have seen innumerable slice-and-dice of the repercussions of having such a policy in not only in large corporates, but also in small and medium enterprises. While the six and half months of paid leave is a huge step towards enabling women in one of their critical life stages, there is a fear too. Questions have been raised at various levels – from whether it would be feasible for companies to keep these women-on-maternity-break (WOMB, coincidently!) in touch with the organisation, interested in their career during and after their break, relevant when they come back, to even whether they can afford to hire women anymore!

These questions are pertinent and do demand for us to contemplate on the amendment’s relevance and need in our current corporate scenario. Well, it is worth debating this. However, with the Bill becoming an act, we need to look at solutions now.

Research shows that the attrition rates are alarmingly high across industries despite having policies in place. Over 60% of Indian women are unsure about the decision of whether to stay or leave after childbirth. On the other hand, the benefits of having a gender diverse workplace is a given. A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute says that if the women’s workforce participation in India is increased to 41% by 2025, the GDP will be increased by about Rs. 46 lakh crore ($700 Billion). Over the years, many researches have been conducted around the world that have also proved that organizations with better gender diversity ratios make more profits than the ones that have poorer diversity representations. It would be a backward step for the organizations, of any kind – Large, Medium, Small, if they choose to ignore one half of the population for recruitment. The way forward is to definitely build an inclusive range of policies and practices that can support this new policy. Retaining employees after maternity leave will enable organizations to maximise the returns on investment it has made on the employees by way of recruitment, training and development.

So, what can companies do to ensure that they can carry on with their Diversity agenda and also benefit from it?

Maternity coaching

The demands on a woman professional who goes on a maternity break are high. Plagued by guilt and unable to prioritise, most of the women feel that quitting their job is the only sane alternative.

For an organisation that is a serious investor in gender inclusion and believes in the power of women’s workforce participation, the following would be highly beneficial:

1. A customised policy towards maternity leave that allows the manager of the pregnant woman to take enabling decisions from a suite of offerings. It would be ideal to have a wide spectrum within which the woman and her manager make a choice.

2. Another must-have across levels of the organisation is the Gender Intelligence training. This can facilitate better understanding and empathy, especially amongst the managers who have women in maternity phase reporting to them.

Goldman Sachs has a training program for its managers to show empathy and sensitivity to returning women. This has apparently had a great impact on the performance of the women. Aditya Birla Group, Morgan Stanley and Shell are big proponents of the concept of gender training, leading to greater empathy creation in the minds of managers.

3. The other subtle yet important factor is having an enabling attitude that recognises and celebrates the woman’s personal milestone while also gently nudging her to keep her skills updated and retain her professional edge.

Companies like Mindtree and EY India have initiative like apps and women networks that makes sure that women who are on their maternity breaks are in touch with the organization.

4. Strong support structures that ensure a smooth phase back when the woman returns from her maternity break.

The need for a supportive peer group has been found to be one of the strongest enablers for a woman professional. Organisations such as HUL, Cisco, Mahindra Group and Integra have understood the importance of these peer groups that provide confidence and psychological stamina to the young returning mother.

5. Preparedness training to the young mother by the way of on-the-ground counselling on how she will cope with the demands of motherhood and her career.

Companies like IBM, Fidelity, Deloitte and Mindtree have invested in this very critical support and have been seeing the difference in young mothers’ retention.

6. A coaching programme to support returnees prior to, during and after maternity leave.

Solutions to questions such as how a woman on maternity leave can stay connected, how to ensure that hard-won relationships at work do not suffer, how to utilise communication as a tool during an out-of-sight/out-of-mind scenario, being confident even as a fresh returnee, manage time and priorities well to hit the ground running and also the important art of setting boundaries — are an absolute must for the young returning mother.

It is time we create gender neutrality to career growth. Since women have the responsibility of bringing the next generation to this world, it is important to recognise it as a natural phase. It is imperative to do that if we want to take the society forward. It is necessary to break out of the idea that the onus is only on the women and the brunt be borne by them. When India Inc re-looks at how women’s career growth patterns are structured and becomes truly inclusive of what is only a natural phenomenon, then everyone wins!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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