The day before Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gave birth to twins this June, she was in office running meetings and addressing the media. The day after she had delivered the babies, she was back at work delivering the deliverables from her hospital bed. In 2012, when she gave birth to her first child, a son, she was back in the office after two weeks of maternity leave.
The Indian Maternity Benefits Act was recently amended in the Rajya Sabha to extend maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. It’s being promoted as a step towards ensuring better participation of women in the workforce. Great. But how real can it get?
Over 25 per cent of Indian women in the private sector never come back to office after child birth. Most women don’t have their mothers-in-law or mothers staying with them and they don’t want to leave their children with nannies because of well-founded insecurities.
You could argue that the recent amendment for crèches within office premises could come in as a solution in such situations. Well, it could, but only if it was an easy reality. Companies may not be willing to bear the cost of establishing crèches for a handful of children.
Expenses incurred due to maternity leaves and due to provision of special maternity infrastructures are seen as losses by companies. Why won’t an employer hire a man instead of a woman and save these losses? The persistent fear of the employer, that hiring women is not cost effective because one day anytime soon they will get pregnant and go on leave, is bound to get worse with the recent amendments rather than the other way around as is being expected.
What can be done?
Well, if we are aiming at equality, the first thing that must be done is to incorporate paternity leave in the Act. Maternity leave minus paternity leave will serve no good as is evident from over the years. Secondly, government should take the bear the cost of maternity leave.
Big companies like Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Flipkart, HCL Technologies, PwC, Accenture, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Godrej and Tata Group already offer around 6 months of paid maternity leave to employees. These few companies can afford it. More companies can’t. These companies will be reluctant to hire women unless the government takes the burden.
Marissa Mayer is an outlier. She is an epitome. The rest of this world reads her story and gets goose bumps and dreams of being like her. Later, this other rest of the world is back to being ordinary, grappling with the unyielding mesh of customs and conventions and surrendering to them eventually. Things need to be figured out to bring this bit of the world to office and ensure they never leave.
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