Maternity Bill, Cases Like Scoopwhoop And TVF: Will Female Hiring At Startups Get Affected?

This report doesn’t advocate any stance/opinion, it simply portrays the facts of the concerned matter

Already facing a cost crunch, many startups in India fight each day to stay afloat. The ecosystem has recently started facing a financial slowdown with investments drying up. This is not only the case with small startups, but the biggies as well. 

The resource crunch recently got synergised with the passing of a revolutionary bill - Maternity Benefit Bill. While the bill provides would-be mothers a 26-weeks paid leave, it has left small startups and companies (especially those already facing a cash crunch) in a fix.

At a time, when startups and companies are finding ways to integrate the Maternity Bill norms, recent cases of sexual harassment such as those at The Viral Fever (TVF) and ScoopWhoop have only added to their woes. Legal bills is something many startups in India cannot afford today.

An important question thus arises in our mind: will such cases of harassment (fear of legal recourse and defamation) synergised by the bill (which is now a law) affect hiring of women at startups (considering the fact that both the issues concern employment of the women workforce)?

Well, at this point, since both the issues are fresh in nature, we can’t really look at data. However, we talked to several startup founders and found some interesting opinions on the matter.

Varun Sheth, Founder and CEO of Ketto, a promising crowdfunding startup, had this to say, “Smaller startups battling budget constraints will not prefer females since the cost of hiring them would increase too”. Varun here is simply highlighting the fact how paid maternity leave will add an extra cost burden on the startups for which they will get no work. While big companies will be able to sustain this, considering the fact they have large reservoirs of money, startups will have a tough time coping up with paid maternity leave. Can we then just assume that they will fire expecting moms? Only time can tell. Varun points out the ideal scenario as well. “I think hiring cuts across gender should be done purely on the basis of talent, skill-sets, experience and most importantly requirement at that particular point. The Maternity Bill is pretty progressive”. 

Regarding cases of sexual harassment, Swati Bhargava, co-founder, told BW, “Sexual harassment is a sensitive issue, it should be handled through a separate process in companies”. Well, Swati is right. Undeniably, every startup, company and organization working today must have an anti- harassment policy. Today, when we enthusiastically run discourses on gender equality, such policies are important to ensure that the work environment serves equally to both the genders and protects against any case of discrimination, sexual harassment among others. But will this affect female hiring? Ankita Gaba, partner, iGenero, says, “I don’t perceive these unfortunate and painful incidents to create a void in the market for us”. Mohit Gang, CEO and Co-founder, has an opposite take, “To add to retention woes of startups, incidents like scoopwhoop and TVF will only act as a catalyst to drive away talent to perceived safer harbors of large companies.” What he simply means is instead of startups hiring women, the latter won’t find it comfortable to work with startups, primarily because of the unorganised policy setup in most of them.

On maternity bill, Swati takes a practical approach, “In a country where less than five per cent of the startup workforce comprises of women, the glass ceiling might become harder to surpass, with the new Maternity Bill in place.” However, Swati also believes that companies should continue hiring women for their strengths and this factor should not become a hindrance to their growth.

This common opinion on maternity bill echoes throughout the ecosystem. Suchi Mukherjee, Founder and CEO, Limeroad, adds, “There are some practical challenges for much smaller unfunded startups. Expecting them to afford six months' salary for almost no productive work may be impractical”. Amarendra Sahu, co-founder and CEO, Nestaway adheres to the same opinion, “With the coming in of Maternity Bill and cases of sexual harassment coming to fore, it is bound to create few ripples initially in every organization”.

When BW Businessworld talked to these startup founders, all of them had a rather pessimistic sync in their opinions regarding the future of women hiring at startups. We saw though, how each of them came in support of the bill and the anti-harassment policies.

Right now, it will be premature for us to come out with any opinion since the data is still not in place, hence we will still leave this as an open ended question. 
Comments and opinions are welcome.

Tags assigned to this article:
sexual harassment case Maternity Bill workplace

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