The Amended Maternity Bill: Is The Friend In Need A Friend Indeed?

 

Your ten-month-old baby is taking its first baby steps. Crawling, trying to stand, falling, and finally standing without support. Your husband and you are ecstatic… or probably at work.

With the Maternity Benefit Bill, we see the government taking these same small baby steps: to ensure mothers are with their baby in an essential period of its growth.

 

Important features of this bill include:

– 26 weeks paid maternal leave with 100% wages

– 12 weeks beyond two children, adopting mothers, and surrogate mothers

– Mandatory creche facilities in offices with 50+ employees

Awaiting the president’s signature, this bill might soon become the new law. Touted as a boon to the professional woman, it seems on the face it, a progressive step!

 

But let’s look at this beyond face-value – How is it helping the professional woman?

·      Will the bill help plug the leaking pipeline of women talent?

·      Will it support and increase workplace opportunities for women?

·      Will it make workplaces more gender-inclusive?

A snap survey of women professionals across the country revealed mixed responses to the bill. (You can access the report here). I am not surprised. Let us look at each of the above questions:

 

1. Will the amended bill help plug the leaking pipeline of female talent?

The maternity phase is the most vulnerable phase in the female talent pipeline, with many women dropping off their careers, simply due to a lack of dependable infrastructural support, working mother guilt, and societal expectations. The previous Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 afforded 12 weeks paid leave, which meant new mothers had to choose between leaving their child with untrained/undependable domestic staff or day care centers that were thin on the ground. Many of them chose to drop out. In that context, the amended bill is definitely a step forward.

An overwhelming 93% of the women who answered our snap survey, thought that the new law is a welcome initiative. 76% of them felt that there will be an increased willingness to return to work post maternity.

But the law makes the organization responsible for bearing the increased cost, unlike most other countries where the government bears at least part of the cost. It remains to be seen how many organizations will be willing to bear the cost for the bill to have an impact on the leaking pipeline.

 

2. Will it support and increase workplace opportunities for female talent?

76% of the surveyed respondents are concerned that there will be hesitation to give opportunities to women. This is a very real fear, given that managers worry about having to account for the cost as well as the absence of a resource. The fact that the challenge can be managed with planning (as is already being done in some organizations) does not reduce the perception of it, which impacts allocating opportunities to female talent at a stage when it is most critical in their careers. This will require increased work by organizations to proactively address these perceptions and reduce the negative impact.

 

3. Will it make workplaces more inclusive?

An inclusive workplace is one that is free of stereotypes and biases. The law, unfortunately, reiterates the prevailing stereotype of the woman as the nurturer and caregiver by granting only maternity leave. 68% women in our survey have voiced concern on this score. Why is it only Maternity Leave? I agree with 93% of respondents who believe paternity leave is as important as maternity leave. If mandated as Parental Leave, this law could have been far more impactful!

 

Do you think the amended bill is impactful?

What did you hope to see in the amended bill?

How important do you think paternal leave is in comparison to maternal leave?

 

Kalpana Tatavarti is CEO and Founder of Parity Consulting & Training Pvt Ltd, a boutique firm focused on accelerating gender inclusion. www.parityconsulting.in

Read more of her articles at www.womanworklife.in

 

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