Although the passage of the Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12 was applauded, some expressed their glaring trepidations of this extended leave. According to `Second Innings', a survey report by CII's Indian Women's Network (IWN), 37 percent of women opt out of their jobs midcareer due to maternity or childcare issues. According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, if participation of women in the Indian workforce is increased to 41% by 2025, it can add an estimated Rs 46 lakh crore ($700 billion) to the GDP. To prevent the law from being counter-productive to women, organizations must also further their reintegration from leave programs to support the successful return of talented working mothers.
What do working mothers miss in maternity jigsaw?
Having said that, extended maternity leave (usually six months) is being offered by many companies but like it’s said, “Every coin has two sides”; this lucrative offer carries its own difficulties. In a breathlessly restless and fast-evolving business ecosystem, six to nine months is a long time and mothers are found left behind in terms of professional knowledge and skills. Some mothers are found losing their positions to juniors while they are away on maternity leave. Worse, some, particularly ones working in the private and corporate sector, lose their jobs if their companies decide to replace them. Chaitrali Singh, Head-HR, ZS Associates - a global consultancy, expresses concern that with the ever changing landscape of organization as a result of technology, the woman on maternity leave for six months may find herself redundant in the changed work atmosphere. "To be out of touch with work for six months, cope with changes in the workplace in that long absence and then to expect the employee to function at optimal capacity on her return is unfair to the new mother," she says. It is equally a reason for concern for the employers as coming back from maternity leave is an extra stressful time for working mothers, causing a high attrition rate in that gender.
Where is the roadblock?
Pregnancy is among the greatest roadblocks to women’s professional success. But while the debate is often framed as a tug-of-war between women’s career ambitions and their desire to be mothers, employers should act like a pillar of support if they wish to encourage and retain their women workforce. So how are women dealing with the aftermath of maternity leaves? What are organizations doing to get back the wandering mothers and encourage them to work with the same pace as before without making them feel as an alien in the crowd? In order to help the mothers find their mojo back at their workplace and avoid employers to pay the price of losing their women workforce, some of the companies have launched useful apps and performance management systems. This will keep women employees updated with the workplace scenario and help them return smoothly; a “Keep in Touch” policy.
What are organizations doing for the working mothers?
With so much of heartburn created because of the extended maternity leaves, few multinational companies in India have geared up to bring back the mothers to work effortlessly. Here are a few companies who have embraced and recognized the value of supporting and retaining their female workforce, who are constantly straddling and balancing lateral worlds and are wooing back the working mother.
Schneider Electric: Engagement model
In an interaction with their women workforce, Schneider Electric realized that many of them were extremely focused on career aspirations and liked to remain engaged and aware of the developments in the organization even while they were on maternity leave. The company initiated an Engagement Model to provide a buddy before women employees proceed on leave, in order to connect with the organization and ensure the right role is identified before they rejoin.
Rachna Mukherjee, Chief HR Officer, Schneider Electric India said,
We have realized that many millennial women are extremely focused on career aspirations and like to remain engaged and aware of the developments happening within the organization, even while on maternity leave. Also, we learned that it is important to let them be aware of the roles they will return to through consistent engagement with their managers and HR partners, ensuring regular career development conversations during their leave. Realizing the importance of a maternity break in a woman’s career, we at Schneider Electric India, have evolved our BUDDY programme in order to maintain the connect with the organization and ensure the right role is identified before they rejoin”
Genpact: Returning Moms Program
Business service firm Genpact runs an initiative called the “Returning Moms Program”. With such a program, women now choose their own work shifts in their first year back and can also work from those company locations closest to home. With such enlightening approach by the company to retaining working mothers, in turn encourages them to get back to work after the long maternity period. Along with this, the company has designated HR managers who maintain constant contact with women not just when they announce their pregnancy, but also during the time leading up to childbirth and right up until they return to the workplace.
Piyush Mehta, chief human resources officer at Genpact said in one of the blogs of People Matters,
We are absolutely passionate about our 'Returning Moms' program. That's because it allows our women employees to return to us after they become mothers, by offering them flexi-options and understanding their needs”
SAP Labs: Run Mummier
SAP Labs came up with an interesting app called Run Mummier in which the company assigns an official buddy at work under the programme that coaches pregnant women on the benefits available to them. It covers interactions during maternity leave and coaching on return to work, focusing on the key issues faced by women in transition, work, parenting, staying connected, self-image and support. These initiatives ensured that attrition among new mothers decreased from 31% in 2010 to 1.3 percent in 2015, company executives said.
Vlasta Dusil, head of HR at SAP Labs India said,
The SAP Run Mummier program covers an all-inclusive period from pre-maternity to return from extended maternity leave and up to 6 months subsequently. In order to re-integrate into the company smoothly, the program also helps employees to stay connected with their colleagues and work-related matters through a concept called ‘Amicos’. To better manage the transition we also take into account paternity leave as well as adoption leave. We believe childcare is a priority and so our in-house childcare center SAPlings takes care of children aged from 9 months to 6 years so that parents can steadily balance their lives”
Sapient: All about You
Sapient also offers six months of paid maternity leave, along with a mobile app and tool “all about You!” to help the moms stay up-to-date with various seminars and training sessions happening in the organization.
Kameshwari Rao, Vice President, People Strategy, Sapient India said,
During the period of 26 weeks, the new mother is completely cut off from her work environment which brings fear of being relevant, losing out to peers in promotion, her skill being passé, will her role be there when she’s back, how will she manage home and work. She further added, “Having learnt the importance of the smooth transition of mothers to work after maternity leave, Sapient introduced a unique India Maternity Program which is a wellness benefit not only for the mother but is available to the entire family. We keep the new mother connected with Sapient where the HR team is in regular contact with her during her time off and help her ease her transition back to Sapient"
In May, Infosys launched a mobile application ‘Sapphire' to allow women going on maternity leave to stay connected to the company. The app keeps the employees up-to-date on any organizational developments and also on the available projects that they can join when they return. This is one of several such initiatives taken by an increasing number of companies to stay connected with employees on maternity leave to address the issue of attrition at that level amid appreciation that many such women will seek a change in the role when they return to work.
Mindtree: MiLady app
The most recent in the news is MiLady, an app launched by Mindtree for their women employees going on a maternity leave. The app helps in giving advice on motherhood related topics, track baby’s progress and plan for their transition to work. This will help mothers to stay engaged with the company and return to their jobs thus reducing the gaps in the talent pipeline. The app offers a wide range of benefits, organizational news and updates and articles on women’s health. With many e-learning and e-courses this app helps the mothers to switch smoothly from the leave period to returning to work. The app aims to make the transition much easier, both for those going on leave as well as those returning to work.
Chitra Byregowda, head of sustainability and diversity at Mindtree said to ET,
We have also introduced features within the app to help women employees update and upgrade their skills ahead of returning to work, in the form of e-learning modules and e-courses"
Although employers must keep in touch with women on maternity leave to inform any change relating to her job or any organizational restructuring or redundancy situations, they should give complete freedom to their female employees to choose if they wish to be connected during their maternity leave period. Also various other companies should come up with innovative ways to curb the challenges associated in bringing back mothers to work.
Like our Grandma used to say, ‘Life is nothing but getting through the rough phase’. Going back to work after maternity leave can be rough indeed, but smooth sailing is on the horizon.
So what inspired you the most about going back to work? Feel free to share your views in the comment box.