Article: Maternity – Do we have a complete picture?


Maternity – Do we have a complete picture?

Organizations have to stop looking at maternity benefits as a cost and identify the business value of this untapped talent pool
Maternity – Do we have a complete picture?

Companies need progressive policies that project the message ‘we care’ to ensure higher engagement levels among women employees


No amount of policy changes and support systems can make a difference unless the buy-in of the manager is ensured


In a recent move to attract and retain women employees, Flipkart doled out an extensive maternity package that includes maternity leave of 24 weeks plus four months of flexi-working hours with full pay, and, if needed, one-year career break without pay.  The government is also looking to extend maternity leave from three months to six months. These latest developments have brought back the focus on the outlook towards maternity in Indian companies.

India is losing 48 per cent of women during the transition from junior to senior management positions according to the Gender Diversity Benchmark for Asia 2011 Report. With just 24 per cent, India ranks at the bottom amongst the Top 6 Asian economies when it comes to representation of women in the workforce at junior and middle-level positions, the report said. Losing a women employee in the first seven to 12 years of her career is a huge productivity loss to any company. Hence, there is an urgent need to plug the leak in this talent pipeline with the right maternity policies.

The current situation is also proving to be the nemesis of all the efforts that recruitment leaders are now putting to increase the gender diversity ratio and build a leadership pipeline of women leaders as well. However, maternity benefits in an organization cannot just be looked at in terms of a cost benefit equation and a loss in productivity. Companies need progressive policies that project the message ‘we care’ to ensure higher engagement levels among women employees in the immediate future. So how can we make a change and ensure that this transition is a smooth one?

A bird’s eye view

The key to developing an enabling environment to attract and retain women in the workforce requires a holistic approach to maternity and breaking stereotypes such as non-engagement with expecting mothers, differential treatment during appraisals or even the lack of flexible working practices. Globally, companies are making efforts to change their policies to create an accepting and conducive atmosphere for women. These include leave policy changes, mentorship programs for planning maternity leave and easing back into the system and support system facilities like child care and counselling. However, a key point in this transition is to do a cultural audit. An organization can choose to get the new mothers back early or allow them an extended leave benefit. However, companies need to review and assess the roadblocks in their respective company cultures and opportunities. Below are some of the steps companies are taking to bring this transition full circle.

Changing maternity policies and practices

A number of companies have changed their maternity leave policy to show that ‘they care.’ HSBC Global provides six months of paid maternity leave and the option of opting for flexible working hours after joining back. Google offers new mothers up to 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. Accenture offers 22 weeks, with an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave. SAP offers 20 weeks of paid maternity leave and an additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave. Most companies also cover maternity expenses as part of their medical insurance policies and are also extending support structures like crèches, day care and even summer camps to help new parents. SAP has an in-house crèche for employees called SAPlings. This crèche caters to 250 children in the age group of nine months to six years. Under this program, children are provided with day care, Montessori education and summer camps among other activities. All the employees of SAP Labs India with children in this age group are eligible to avail this facility.

Geetha Parameswaran, Sr. HR Business Partner at SAP Labs India, talks about how the right program has helped them in curbing attrition. “Run Mummier is the maternity return program for SAP. It addresses key issues faced by expecting mothers like transition to work, parenting, staying connected, self-image and support. This program also aims to help pregnant women employees avail the benefits of the maternity policy at SAP in a planned and structured format. Before the program was instituted, the attrition rate of women employees post pregnancy was in high double-digits. Now, this number stands at 2.6 per cent only.”

Companies are also trying to step away from older norms of performance appraisal and extended flexible working hours to their women employees. Subir Mehra, Head of Global Service Centers at HSBC, says, “At HSBC, the maternity leave and flexible working hours options do not affect the salary revision of the employee for that year. New mothers also have the option of flexible work timing and whenever needed, they can also work from home. Apart from this, new mothers are also provided career guidance on how to make up for the months they have lost in office.”

Getting the manager buy-in: A critical component that can make or break this entire dynamic is the manager. No amount of policy changes and support systems can make a difference unless the buy-in of the respective manager is ensured. A smart way to make a change here is the clarity in expectations of the company with regard to the employees availing maternity benefits. This can also be included as part of a manager’s training on how to cultivate effective employees and foster a cohesive work culture in the team. A manager’s support is essential in curbing attrition of new mothers. This is also an essential part of creating the right atmosphere in the organization, where team members are equally supportive.

Putting mentorship and learning programs in place: Mentorship and sponsorship programs are vital in getting women back on the professional track. Mentoring is necessary for employee development and helping them ease back into the company. Some tools that organizations currently use include: Online portals specifically dedicated to returning women; e-learning tools for women on a break that keeps them in the loop of the changes taking place in companies; and dedicated on-boarding and training modules designed specifically for employees who are re-joining the workforce.

Parag Pande, Managing Director-HR at Accenture India, says, “We offer a range of programs to help women transition back to work. These include maternity returners program (career guidance for new parents), parents at work program (to assist women employees during maternity to remain in the workforce, if they chose, and to advance their career), workshops, maternity counselling calls, etc.”

Introducing the option of career planning: All women going away on maternity leave come back to a relatively altered scenario and find it difficult to pace themselves in the changed atmosphere. In this scenario, career planning can be a great tool. With the manager buy-in, a prospective mother can plan her career well, both during and after pregnancy. She can discuss the roles and responsibilities during this time period and have a greater visibility on the career path. Planning well can also help manage the emotional and psychological challenges a woman faces when she returns again.

Explaining how keeps the connect alive with the new mothers, Yuvaraj Srivastava, CHRO at, says, “We believe it is more important to create enablers for women employees to start work sooner than later and be in sync with the organizational pace. Our policy offers three months complete paid leave and then next three months with an option of either working from home at full salary or extending their leave and receiving half the salary. The policy, which also offers leave without remuneration after six months of maternity leave, is aimed at getting women back to work place after maternity on a comfortable pace, instead of providing long period of extended leave, which can result in a disconnect with the organization.”

Making the efforts count

National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), a body under the Ministry of Statistics, regularly conducts regular socio-economic surveys and predicts that India will have a working-age woman population (under the age of 30) of almost 250-300 million by 2020. This number is almost equivalent to the entire population of the US or Italy, Germany, France and the UK combined. This staggering number shows how women can prove to be a big aid to the Indian economy and businesses.

A flexible and innovative workplace that appreciates the needs of women employees would go a long way in creating a nurturing ecosystem to harness this immense potential. There can be no standalone program or initiative to help advance women in their careers. Learning and development programs should focus not just on women, but also on organizational infrastructure and culture changes that are crucial for successful reintegration of talented women employees. However, no amount of favorable policies and incentives can make a change unless managers and team members reciprocate the sentiment in reality. This will require a serious commitment from the leadership team and a sincere intent to put metrics in place to measure the effects of this change in the future.  


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Topics: Diversity, Employee Relations

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