Maternity Benefits amendment – Making it effective

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The Maternity Bill Amendment is old news now. So are all the opinions lauding or criticising it. So let’s get down to the facts. The new 26-week mandate from the Government will put India third in the list of Countries that have the highest number of days of paid leave for Maternity. It is definitely a wonderful step towards enabling Women in their critical life stage of Maternity. At AVTAR, we have always looked at ways of enabling Women to lead intentional and sustained careers. And the 26-week, which is six and half months of paid leave, mandate has given the women the needed time off to concentrate on themselves and their babies.

Of course, 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! These questions are pertinent and do demand for us to contemplate on the amendment’s relevance and need in our current corporate scenario. Well, we think it does. The relevance lies in the fact that the Maternity Benefits Act’s amendment is but one step. Only one step towards the Gender parity goal. First, perhaps, of the many such enabling measures that will ensure not only that the women get their deserved chunk of benefits, but also the organizations will be able to help, and benefit, from the same.

In fact, research shows that the attrition rates are alarmingly high across industries despite having policies in place. Over 60% of Women are unsure about the decision, to stay or leave after childbirth.  After all, the benefits of having a gender diverse workplace is a given. A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute also says that if the Women’s workforce participation in India is increased to 41% by 2025, the GDP will be increased by Rs. 46 lakh crore ($700 Billion). Researches after researches around the world have also proved that organizations with better gender diversity ratios making 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, a case that has been proven time and time again. The way forward is to definitely build an inclusive range of policies and practices. 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’s the rest of the package?

According to the 2016 Working Mother and AVTAR Best Companies for Women in India study, there are companies that offer the following, additional, benefits for the women:

  1. Maternity leave coaching
  2. Pre-natal programs
  3. Unpaid job guaranteed maternity leave
  4. On-site day care centres
  5. Infrastructural support for nursing mothers
  6. Flexi-time
  7. Telecommuting
  8. Remote Work

There is a strong case that has organically emerged out of this – a need for a strong and effective Phase back program. A good relationship between an employee and her line manager is essential for the successful reintegration of the employee following maternity leave. How the organisation supports them through the process can help them remain engaged, and research has shown that the line manager relationship is the most significant factor in retaining maternity returners.

Organizations and most importantly managers need to help women employees make a smooth transition into working parenthood. Managers need to plan effectively so that it builds commitment and motivation on both sides. Together, the manager and the employee should be working towards a clearly defined and openly communicative working relationship in the days and months during pregnancy and motherhood.

While large MNCs have a few of these policies and practices already in place, the others, especially the Medium and Small sized companies might find it difficult to put together an effective model in place. It is here that the expertise of organizations like AVTAR, comes into play. Having been the pioneers of Diversity and Inclusion in India, AVTAR Group has helped many an organization to not only increase their Gender Diversity numbers, but also successfully put in place specific policies and practices that help retain and grow talents in the long run.

This July, AVTAR is launching the SEGUE Sessions Phase Back program for the Corporates. This will be a platform where best practices for an effective pre, during and post maternity phase back will be discussed and shared. With go-to experts from the relevant fields, be it Psychologists, Paediatricians, Senior Leaders or Women who have been through the journey themselves. A one-of-its-kind initiative will be the ideal start for the Company to relook at its policies & practices with regard to Maternity. 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. It is high time we re-looked at the way we structure our career growth patterns and include what is only a natural phenomenon.

While waiting for stronger Government policies to be put in place that supports the Maternity Benefit policy and ensure that Women and the Organizations can benefit, it is time for the organizations to invest in a long term vision and set up a strong set of policies and practices that will ensure that the future is towards inclusive growth.