Doubled Maternity Leave Might Actually Work Against Women!

The newly passed Maternity Bill in Rajya Sabha increases the leaves of a pregnant mother from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. The Indian government is lauded internationally for this step as India becomes the country with third highest maternity leave behind Canada and Norway that gives 50 weeks and 44 weeks respectively. The downside is in India, only 27% of women are working. And out of this population, only 1.8mn are part of organized labor. A vast majority of women will not be benefitted from this change.

As a mother, I feel very happy for fellow mothers or women who are thinking of having a child. This is good for women who are in the current workforce and thinking of getting pregnant. But what about the fresh graduates or women who are planning to switch roles for career progression? This change will have a negative impact on their careers.

Employers would be reluctant to take on more women for the fear of paying them during maternity leave. India may be ahead in giving more maternity leave but it has a lot to catch up on gender equality at the workplace. There are efforts being made to hire more women at senior levels but still, not enough.

Companies may project as advocates of gender equality or equal opportunity employer but at the ground level, there is a silent discrimination happening that everyone is aware of. I don’t see this decision (of extending maternity leave) as a progressive step as this may cause more trouble for women who are seeking employment. Given that there are fewer opportunities in market due to global meltdown.

More than having a longer maternity leave, women need better arrangements at the workplace like having a maternity ward, maternity bonus, mothers can take rest/nap during work hours or leaving office early for initial days so that she can catch up with the baby. These measures would have been a lot more effective than having a longer maternity leave. The companies would welcome such change too. 

Alternatively, along with this change, PM Modi should also announce a certain percentage of reservation for women in offices (depending on the size of the company). Reservations in any field have never been efficient but it has been helpful in bringing up a section of society that has been left behind. There are many women in India who drop out every year from the workforce, leaving behind their flourishing career because they want to have a family. Most of the current workplace doesn’t offer opportunity for working women and they care less about their women employees.

For smaller companies, having an employee who has six months of paid maternity leave is a big deal. Though the positive is that the employee may stay on longer but the immediate liability will deter them to hire women. For example -When I joined back after my first maternity leave, my boss used to ask if I am planning for a second baby soon. These are examples of some of the questions that new mothers are being asked post maternity.

This could be a welcome change for women working in government organizations but women who are working in private sector, it is going to be more difficult. As soon as women announce their pregnancy in office, the co-workers and manager’s attitude change. She is being ignored for any new upcoming projects/events as she is expected to be away for a while. Now that”for a while” becomes 26 weeks and that is going to worsen the situation in private firms.

This change is a liability which not many companies would like to take in future. And there are mixed responses regarding this change. But overall it will turn out to be negative for career women.

If you have a different point of view, please drop a comment below. Let the discussion begin.