What We Need Are FAMILY-Friendly Policies, Not Just Women-Friendly Ones.

  • Neha Bagaria - Founder & CEO, JobsForHer
  • in
  • Back to Work, Founder's Blog
  • |
  • 13 Nov 2017


In the game of life, work and family are the two biggest players that tend to run in parallel and often overlap, for most people. In an increasingly fast paced world, striking a balance between the two has become crucial for individuals, family units, communities, and now… COMPANIES.

The traditional family structure of women being the primary caregivers for children and men being the breadwinners is giving way to a new order.

As costs and standard of living go up, the need for two incomes is more pressing than ever before. As more women join the workforce, their traditional role as the primary caregiver must adapt to the new status quo.

This can only be possible with the help of families, employers, society, and enabling state policies.

The ILO (International Labour Organisation) stipulates a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave through the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000, reporting that about 53% (98) of countries meet this minimum requirement.

Apart from maternity protection being a fundamental labour right, it has also proven extremely successful and beneficial to companies’ balance sheets and bottom lines to retain their female employees in the long run.

What we want to showcase in this article is why it makes financial sense for a company to design parental leave policies, invest in your female workforce, retain their talent, plan ahead for when they will be away, hire suitable contract employees to fill their spot, and welcome them back after their leave to restart their careers with you.

Why Maternity Leave is Good for Business

It’s a proven fact that paid leave improves worker retention, which saves employers money by reducing turnover costs.

Replacing workers is expensive: Turnover costs are estimated to average one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary. And, when workers don’t have access to paid leave, they are more likely to need to leave their jobs.

Paid leave reduces these turnover costs and encourages valued workers to stay in the labor force and with the same employer. Applying this data to maternity leave will reap the same rewards for companies.

Take the example of Google. The rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50% when in 2007 it increased paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 weeks.

"Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it [was] much better for Google's bottom line - to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills, and perspective of our employees who are mothers."

It has been found that “paid maternity leave raises the probability that mothers return to employment… and then work more hours”. Paid maternity leave also goes a long way in improving loyalty and morale among women employees - it shows that the company cares for its people.  

Of Moms AND Dads

It is time to change the discourse from maternity leave to parental leave. When fathers take on more of the caregiving role, and are provided the enabling work environment to do so through paternity leave, mothers can balance work and family better.

Ever heard of The Motherhood Penalty? It’s a proven systemic disadvantage that working women encounter in terms of pay, perceived competence, and benefits relative to childless women and men. This is precisely because the role of the mother has adapted and changed over time, going beyond that of primary caregiver and becoming a breadwinner in the household too. However, the perceived responsibilities of parenthood continue to mostly lie with mothers, when some of the load should, logically, be shared by fathers.

Companies can and should design family friendly policies that enable both parents to care for children, while maintaining their roles at work.

Sweden’s parental leave policy is touted to be one of the best in the world - 480 days shared between the parents for up to 8 years of their child, with fathers being required to take a minimum of 60 days. The economy is one of the most robust, thriving, and growing in the world.

“Partly owing to the large technology sector, productivity growth is impressive with GDP per hour worked growing 2½ per cent a year for the economy as a whole.”

And this continues to be the case, today, in most Scandinavian countries who enjoy a healthy work-life balance. These are also countries who enjoy a majority highly skilled and tertiary educated workforce, but they are examples to consider for India’s growing, highly educated workforce, down the road.

The India Story

India ranks among the top 16 countries in the world that offer the longest duration of paid maternity leave.

The most recent development is an amendment to the Maternity Benefits Act 1961, likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament this year, proposing an extension from the current 12 weeks, to a total of 26 weeks of maternity leave to women. It is a great step in the right direction for Indian mothers, recognising that they need and deserve more time to be with their newborns.

However, the perceived burden on companies, when a female employee is absent for a little more than 6 months, can be reduced as well. Companies could, for instance, split the 26 weeks of leavebetween mothers and fathers, so the time off is shared by both parents.

Maternity leave also need not be a deterrent for hiring women employees because there are ways in which you can capitalize on your female employees’ time away by:

  • Creating & fostering an open-communication work environment in order to plan ahead with the teams on which these women work,
  • Finding replacement employees to take their place from the qualified, experienced, talent pool of women returning from a career-break, who are looking to get back to work,
  • Making the mat-leave position a contract/part-time position that places no onus on the company in terms of benefits apart from salary - also a great way for career-break women to ease back into the workforce after their time away, and

Preferably do this through JobsForHer - clearly the market-leader for this resource, in India.  

When companies can start to reimagine the future with regard to their workforce’s output, by recognising that they need happy and contented individuals at and outside of work, things can start to look very different.

The Need of the Hour

As is usually the case in India, the law sounds great on paper.

But when companies and employees start to deal with the implementation of these laws, the reality is a bit different. For instance, many of the provisions under the Maternity Benefit Act (like providing a creche) are only applicable to organisations with 30 female employees or 50 employees in total. This means that small companies and startups are not obligated to provide maternity benefits, by law.

More importantly, the financial burden of paying a female employee who isn't contributing to the productivity of the company, can be a major deterrent to hiring female employees in the first place, particularly for small organisations.

Private sector employers of organised and unorganised workers in India are expected to bear the entire burden of paying for social security benefits like health insurance, maternity, and pension.

For small and medium enterprises, shouldering the cost and payout of an extended maternity leave policy may prove quite difficult. It is for this reason that planning ahead, fostering healthy and open channels of communication between managers and team members, and hiring contract/part-time workers (preferably through JobsForHer!) who pose no overhead costs apart from their salary, to fill in for that valuable employee during their time away, can help keep your workforce diverse and benefit your bottom line.

As well, the global reality is that governments help with paying for such benefits, because they contribute to the larger benefit of society. They cannot solely be the responsibility of the employer. It is time that companies thought about this, and work towards starting this conversation with the Government of India... for the collective good of employees, employers, families, society and our country.

JobsForHer’s mission is to bring women into the workforce and to work with companies to design re-entry programmes for this growing and invaluable talent pool. Is your company ready to diversify? Then look no further! Sign your company up on JobsForHer TODAY and gain access to this incredible talent pool of experienced, qualified women, available at no notice period!