Not maternity, it requires 6 months of paternity leave to enable gender equality

This article is very little about the recent Indian maternity bill, mandating 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. I was listening to the much hyped Anne Hathaway’s speech at UN on International Women’s Day. I must say it was shocking and shameful to know that the most developed country in the world did not give any paid leaves to its women for maternity. The story is similar in many other so-called developed nations.

So first things first, I think kudos to the Indian Government for taking such a decision for social good.

Social good, I think that is the key phrase.
If we want the well-being of the society we have to enable favorable conditions for children to be raised.

A paid maternity leave is actually the very bare minimum, however unfortunately even that is taking so much effort in so many countries.

Hence, the landmark Indian Maternity Bill is a significant step towards social good.

However, maternity leave does not solve the problem of gender equality. If anything I fear it might aggravate bias against women at work

And that is what this article is about.

It is not about the need for such a legislation. The need is dire. It is about the purpose the legislation serves. The purpose is not gender equality at work.

Anne Hathaway talks of motherhood penalty. It is the career set-back a woman faces for being absent from work during the maternity period. It is a reality in organizations. And with increased duration of the paid leave the penalty may have to be paid by even “suspected mothers”, women who are considered to be in the life-stage of getting married and bear children. Already, there are media reports talking of this.

So does that mean we decry the bill itself? That will be foolish.

Last September, I had written extensively on what it takes to make a maternity policy actually work in favor of women (OOUCH of maternity leaves: Why managers secretly dread it), the need to look at the manager’s perspective and solve workforce planning issues — which is the root cause of the anxiety about hiring women.

If this bill has to actually work in favor of professional women, Human Resources will really need to pull up its socks.

The till now only-talked-of-but-not-practiced “strategic HR”, new age ways of working, roles on time-share, dynamic workforce management — will need to swing into action.

Just taking the mandate without building the support-system for other stakeholders (like managers), will be disastrous — and the first casualty of it will be women.

Equally importantly, for women to be equal participants in the workforce,

men will need to enabled just as much to break free of their stereotypes.

Most organizations have a 10-day paternity leave. But what if we allowed a 6-month fatherhood leave to men anywhere after the child is 6 months to a year-and-half old?

What if men took ‘leaves’ to raise the child after the nursing period, when women can return to work — reducing the motherhood penalty, while men begin to bear the same mantle of raising the child and being away from work for 6 months?

How would the workplace dynamics change then?

And we must give this a serious thought, because it is not just some form of poetic justice. The practical reality is that the child continues to require undivided attention well beyond 6 months.

No one talks of this policy because the leaves to men for organization A, will benefit organization B, and vice-versa.

So most likely, such a policy will come to be if:

  1. Some leading organizations take the initiative and set an example
  2. A motion is passed at an industry confederation level, where all member organizations pledge to such a policy, so they can benefit each other
  3. It is mandated by the government.

Given that the industry is still reeling under the implications of the new Bill, and women in other countries are still to even get basic maternity leaves, it might be a while before we start debating a paternity leave.

Having said that, for gender equality advocates, it is a wait worth its while. Because if the society has to progress in real terms, 3 things will need to happen, among others..

  1. Children will need to be raised well
  2. Mothers who wish to, will need to be able to participate full-fledged in their careers after child-birth
  3. Fathers who wish to, will need to get an equal opportunity to raise their children full-time

Now that, truly will be gender equality.


To connect with Swati and read her other blogs, use this link to Medium blogspot.

Her other articles include:

  1. The Uber Case: VP-HR or CEO? Who is accountable for culture? Where the buck stops
  2. LOL … driverless cars for India??: When AI meets Cows, Rajinikanth and Ganpati
  3. “If Robots will do everything, what will humans do”: Why AI Rhetoric deeply worries me
  4. The Monkey Catcher’s Lesson: Why we get stuck in our jobs, situations, emotions..
  5. Flirt with your product ideas, don’t fall in love
  6. Love in the time of Artificial Intelligence: Valentine’s Day 2030
  7. 3 unforgettable lessons I learnt from an Indian Ed Tech Leader
  8. 3 taboo questions Millennials are asking, leaving hiring managers shocked
  9. Why the ‘Corporate-style Women’s Day Celebrations’ gives me the creeps

10. Man or Woman? Who should lead gender diversity? Why we are simply asking the WRONG question.

11. The (difficult) art of doing nothing and why it matter in a world proud of “busy”

12. “So why are you leaving?”: Don’t treat retention discussions like a ONE TIME date