Generous Maternity Benefit is good, but not enough

The Maternity Act in India has doled out some wonderful benefits; a generous 26 weeks leave, compulsory crèche, work from home options and

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so forth. Many organizations in India are beginning to offer all this and more!  No doubt this is a welcome move, but it’s time to take a pause and ponder if it is enough to meet the goal that many organizations are pursuing: build leadership pipeline of women and having higher representation of women at senior and CXO levels? Or is it merely scratching the surface of the problem.

What happens after 6 months? Even with work from home option, women still have to get back to work by the time the child is or one or so. A one-year-old child needs significant attention and care. Separation anxiety also builds up around this age, making it none too easier for women.

On the other hand, women join workforce in huge numbers. But, they leave in between. There is a significant drop in numbers as we go up the corporate ladder.  Interestingly, they do not vanish suddenly. They vanish from workforce over a period of time. If there are 25% women in junior management, they reduce to 15% by middle and to a mere 4 or 5% at senior and top level. The maternity benefit can help retain women at typically junior or middle level – assuming that’s the child bearing age. But, what about the leaking pipeline, maternity benefit can hardly be a solution to this problem.

I believe that one of the real challenge lies in expectations from the society and home.

Societal expectations – How about a house husband? How comfortable is this idea in our society? It would take tons of courage and confidence for a man to become a house husband, even if he wants to. Whereas a housewife raises no eyebrows, it’s almost a norm. Society expects a man to be the primary bread-earner and provide for the family, while the primary responsibility of a woman is to take care of home and children (even if she is working).  Man is expected to work up the corporate ladder, while it’s okay for a woman to go slow on her career. When a husband gets a good offer, the wife is expected to move with him, if required even by taking a career break. Can the husband do the same? Can he relocate If the wife gets a good opening in another city? It gives such immense pleasure to see few men doing it today, but its far and few. The first step is to modify the societal expectations and bring equality – let careers be pursued by men and women as per their choice, not based on societal expectations.

Expectations at Home – The societal expectations creep into homes. Boys are expected to get into professional education enabling them to provide for their families in future. While several families encourage girls to study well and even get into professional education, they are also prepared for taking care of household chores. Jobs are classified into male and female jobs. Subtle messages about these responsibilities are unconsciously passed on to children – both boys and girls – in growing up years. While this is changing in many families, there is still a long way to go.

Impact of these expectations on women – Expectations from the society and home, understood and imbibed from childhood, have a strong impact on women. When faced with a dilemma – work or home – many get influenced by the subtle biases deeply embedded in the sub-conscious. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all right for a woman to drop out of workforce or decide to take a low profile job for a certain period or permanently – it’s her personal decision. But, the question to ponder is would women approach work differently, search for more solutions, be more creative about their careers, put in more efforts to stay in workforce and make more efforts to grow up the career ladder had the expectations from society and home been different?

What can organizations do to remove these subtle biases, first from the minds of women?

What can women do to unlearn these biases?

Answers to these questions would help organizations meet the diversity agenda. As I come back with few thoughts in next post, would love to hear your thoughts to these questions. 

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