Article: Father's Day 2024: India's drive for gender-neutral parental policies

Culture

Father's Day 2024: India's drive for gender-neutral parental policies

From urban mindsets to rural realities, India is witnessing a shift in parental leave policies, challenging age-old norms and empowering a more balanced future for working families.
Father's Day 2024: India's drive for gender-neutral parental policies

A global trend towards gender-neutral parental leave is gaining momentum.  The London Stock Exchange recently announced 26 weeks of fully paid equal parental leave for its employees. Since 2016, companies like Abrdn, Aviva, Bain & Company, Diageo, Goldman Sachs, John Lewis, UNICEF, and Vodafone Group have also implemented similar policies.

While the world embraces gender-neutral parental leave, India lags behind. Most organisations in India offer only 5-15 days of paternity leave compared to the mandated 26 weeks of maternity leave for female employees. This significant disparity creates challenges for work-life balance for new parents and reinforces traditional gender roles.

However, the scenario is changing with several Indian companies now embracing gender-neutral parental leave policies. E-commerce marketplace Meesho offers a generous 30-week gender-neutral parental leave. Fintech companies like OKCredit and Razorpay are also leading the charge, extending paternity leave beyond the standard 15 days. Twilio, another tech company in India, has adopted a similar approach. These progressive policies promote work-life balance for new parents and challenge traditional gender roles within the Indian workplace.

Traditional societal norms have long placed the responsibility of childcare primarily on women, but a cultural shift is underway, especially in urban areas. Companies are recognising the importance of supporting new fathers in sharing parental duties, reflecting changing attitudes toward gender roles.

Piyali Bandopadhyay, Manager of People Experience & Operations at Progress, acknowledges that adopting equal parental leave policies is not just a policy change but a cultural shift in redefining parenting roles. "Traditionally, Indian society is patriarchal, with child-rearing usually being the woman's responsibility, which is reflected in parental leave policies," she notes.

However, progressive companies are leading the way in addressing this imbalance. At Progress, the company provides five days of parental leave and offers flexible remote working options to support new fathers. "Leaders support fathers by discussing workloads, offering counselling through an employee assistance program, and organising various parental sessions," Bandopadhyay explains.

Rachna Taranath, interim HR head at MassMutual India, echoes the sentiment that new-age fathers want to play an equal role in parenting and take on more responsibilities. "Many corporates are quick to respond to the demand and have been able to roll out paternal leaves for young dads to support them in helping care for their newborns with their partners," she says.

The culture of women being considered as the primary caregivers leaves fathers with little involvement in the child’s upbringing. “The traditional norms, however, are changing. Companies must revise their parental leave policies to reflect this evolution as society shifts towards equal parenting. With diverse paths to parenthood today, organisational policies must keep pace,” says Sahil Mathur, CHRO (People & Culture), InMobi Group.

Despite the positive momentum, challenges remain. Bandopadhyay acknowledges that implementing equal parental leave faces hurdles, including traditional gender role perceptions, cost concerns for small businesses, managing workloads during leave, and potential stigma for employees. "Overcoming these hurdles needs careful planning, education, and support from management and staff," she advises.

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Taranath also recognises the potential impact on businesses, stating, "Parental leave policy for more employees in the same team at the same time could pose as an impediment, potentially affecting business, finances, and resources. However, this is a challenge that can be addressed with proper advanced planning."

All the leaders emphasise the pivotal role the Indian government can play in standardising parental leave policies. Bandopadhyay believes that "stronger laws are needed to promote gender-neutral leave policies." At the same time, Taranath views government legislation as "a big step in challenging societal norms and cultural expectations" around childcare. For Mathur, an equal parental leave policy for fathers would promote a more equitable distribution of parenting responsibilities and benefits. 

As India navigates this cultural and corporate landscape, the path forward lies in a collective effort. Companies must continue to review and revise their policies, fostering inclusive workplaces that support all parents. Simultaneously, government initiatives can drive broader societal change by mandating gender-neutral leave policies across sectors.

Ultimately, the goal is to create an environment where parenting responsibilities are shared equitably, empowering both mothers and fathers to thrive in their personal and professional lives. By addressing the challenges head-on and embracing a progressive mindset, India can pave the way for a more balanced and supportive future for working families.

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Topics: Culture, Compensation & Benefits Consulting, Employee Relations, #Wellbeing, #HRCommunity, #DayInFocus

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