The Lok Sabha on Thursday amended the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 and according to the new Act, women working in the organized sector can avail 6 months of paid maternity leave, up from 12 weeks of paid leave earlier. This move will benefit about 1.8 million women in the organized sector and will increase the strength of the working women force. Organizations which already provide 6-month paid maternity leave are HCL, Flipkart, Microsoft, P&G, Nestle, Infosys, RIL, Tata Group, among others. Now, India has reached the third position in terms of the number of weeks for maternity leave after Canada and Norway where it is 50 weeks and 44 weeks, respectively
According to the new Act, a woman employee can take her Maternity leave prior to 8 weeks before delivery. In case a woman has two or more children, the benefit will continue to be 12 weeks as it’s already mentioned in the Act and also she will be entitled to take it only 6 weeks before the date of delivery.
The Act grants 12 weeks of maternity leave to: (i) a woman who legally adopts a child below three months of age; and (ii) a commissioning mother. A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman. The leave period of 12 weeks will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive parents or the commissioning mother.
This is the first time the Act introduces a provision where every organization with 50 or more employees will be needed to provide crèche facitlities within a prescribed distance. The woman availing this option will be allowed four visits to the crèche in a day. This will also include her interval for rest.
The work from home option introduced in the Bill states that an employer may permit a woman to work from home, provided the nature of work assigned to her can be done remotely. This option can be availed of, after a period of maternity leave for a duration that is mutually agreed upon by the woman and the employer.
The Act introduces a provision which requires every establishment to intimate a woman at the time of her appointment of the maternity benefits available to her. Such communication must be in writing and electronically.
India poses a unique challenge when it comes to recruiting, retaining women talent. While the statistics don’t really paint a nice picture, the Act surely gives a head-start to what needs to be done. Nearly 45% Indian women say their decision to leave their jobs was strongly influenced by the prevalent notion that women must take care of the household while men must work and provide for the family. The labour force participation rate for women is falling, from 37% in 2004-05 to 29% in 2009-10. In the rural areas, the percentage of women workers is 25%, while in the urban areas, it is just 15%. Out of 323 total executive directorship positions on the Bombay Stock Exchange, just eight are held by women.
According to a recent report by PwC on ‘Winning the fight for female talent: How to gain the diversity edge through inclusive recruitment’, organisations across the world inject greater urgency into their gender diversity efforts. Explicit hiring targets have emerged as a core driver in fulfilling these ambitions with 78% of large organisations around the world saying they’re actively seeking to hire more women – especially into more experienced and senior level positions. As organisations fight to attract female talent – particularly at levels and in sectors where they’re currently underrepresented – we’re now seeing competition for female talent escalate to a whole new level.
Satyavati Berera, Chief Operating Officer, PwC India- “Having a diverse and inclusive workforce is no longer just a talent imperative but a business one as well. Today, organisations are revisiting their policies and processes to make sure they are more aligned with the changing needs of the modern workforce, with increased focus on women. At PwC, we offer unique programmes to take care of the special needs of women employees in different phases of their lives and their advancement as leaders.
Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 Report which includes findings from 29 countries and reveals that, within decades, the average pay gap could close if women take advantage of three career equalizers and if business, government and academia provide critical support. The research found that, globally, a woman earns an average $100 for every $140 a man earns. Adding to this imbalance is the fact that women are much less likely than men to have paid work (50 percent and 76 percent, respectively). This contributes to a “hidden pay gap” that increases the economic inequities between men and women: for every $100 a woman earns, a man earns $258, the research shows.
In India, the research covered 31 industries, and found that the average pay gap between men and women is 67 percent (men earn $167 for every $100 earned by a woman.) Much of this gap is caused by the fact that there are more men than women in high paying functional and leadership roles, in addition to factors such as education levels, industry segment and hours worked. The research also found that applying the three strategies could add $39 billion to women’s incomes by 2030.
“Despite recent successes such as improvement in education, and more work opportunities, socio-cultural issues often force women to step back at important stages in their careers making the gap harder to close,” said Rekha Menon, Chairman and Senior Managing Director, Accenture in India. “However, the technology industry has played a transformative role in fostering gender equality in the workplace, through its products and services, and through inclusive policies and practices.”
With these changes, the average pay gap in developed markets could close by 2044, shortening the time to pay parity by 36 years. In developing markets, the changes could cut more than 100 years off the time to reach pay parity, achieving it by 2066 instead of 2168.
The PwC Report also highlights that just talking about diversity as part of an employer brand is no longer enough. When deciding whether or not to work for an employer, over half (56%) of women are looking to see active diversity progress. This rises to 61% for female career starters. Meanwhile, 61% of women and 49% of men look at the diversity of an employer’s leadership team when deciding to accept their most recent position.
And 67% of women explored if their employer had positive role models who were similar to them when deciding to accept their most recent position, rising to 76% for female career starters. This factor was particularly important to women working in sectors that are widely regarded as relatively male-dominated, such as FinTech (85%), Engineering and Construction (82%) and Asset Management (78%).
Maternity Benefit Act amendment is surely a path to realise the potential of women’s progress.