Everyone agrees that there should be more women working outside the home. In these days of heightened political-correctness, even people who may disagree have to be careful not say it out loud! There are statistics from CMIE, WEF, World Bank and UNDP that point out that India is actually losing women in her workplace. Currently, as per IndiaSpend, there are 27 per cent of Indian women who are part of the labour market. Contrast that with China which has 64 per cent of her women working. A McKinsey report of 2015 highlights that if women were at par with men at the workplace India could increase her GDP by a whopping 60 per cent. A CMIE report says that in the first few months of 2017 more than 24 lakh women fell off the employment map.

Read other Stories in WomenAndTheVote 

Having been part of the corporate world for almost 30 years I agree completely with all the statistics presented. Further, moving beyond mere statistics I have experienced, personally, the value that women bring to the workplace and in high performing teams. On the other hand,  I have also witnessed qualified, talented professional women having to step off the workplace due to ‘family reasons’.

Key Takeaways

  • Interestingly enough, it is in the government sector that women seem to be doing well.
  • Men cannot bear children but they do want their own progeny!
  • The government protects the seniority of the women even when they go on maternity leave.
  • The HR ministry could institute special short e-learning courses for women on maternity leave. The year taken off need not be seen as  a ‘holiday’ by the organisation but as time off for learning. 

I have been asked, often, about my own rise in the corporate world. I did take nearly two years off  (without pay) when I had my son. People are surprised that this time off did not put me behind my male colleagues. They are surprised at the rise of my career graph immediate upon joining back work. To all of them, and to others, my answer is very simple: I was fortunate to be part of a cadre in a Group which protected the seniority of women even when they were on leave. I was part of TAS (Tata Administrative Service).  I went on maternity leave as a Manager in one Tata company and joined back a year and a half later as a Deputy General Manager in another Tata company. Protecting my seniority and having no break in service proved to be the stepping stones for my success thereon.

I was fortunate to be part of a cadre in a Group which protected the seniority of women even when they were on leave. – Sonu Bhasin

Herein lies the rub. Much has been researched and written about the reasons why women drop off the labour market mid-way. Reasons including unequal pay, lack of safety at workplace, negative gender bias and apathy of women to take on transferable jobs have been quoted ad nauseam. While all these are indeed true, I choose to focus on one reason for this article. This is the matter of losing seniority after maternity leave.

#WomenAndTheVote
#WomenAndTheVote

All employers, government and non-government, encourage women to be ‘equal to men’ at the workplace. Women put in the same amount of work, even more, to prove that they, too, are ‘equal’. However, nature has created inequalities which cannot be overlooked. Men cannot bear children but they do want their own progeny! Thus, it is a given that a woman, at some stage of her career, will take time off for her family. However, in almost all organisations, this fact of life is treated as a ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’. “Oh she is pregnant, is she?”, “she wants to have a child NOW?” or even “she didn’t tell us that she wanted a child when we recruited her” are some of the real-life comments I have heard during my years at the workplace.

Men cannot bear children but they do want their own progeny! Thus, it is a given that a woman, at some stage of her career, will take time off for her family. However, in almost all organisations, this fact of life is treated as a ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’.

The leave that is mandated by the law is given grudgingly and as if a great favour is being bestowed on the woman employee. While the law mandates 26 weeks there are women who accumulate leave and use it at this time. Usually, it is about a year that a woman wants to take off, especially for her first child. My interviews and discussions with women across organisations point out that after their return from maternity leave, women have to jostle and fight for their place in their own organisations. It has been told to me that each child costs a woman at least three years of her work life. For professional women, this becomes a heavy price to pay and they would rather step off than be lower in the hierarchy at the workplace.

It has been told to me that each child costs a woman at least three years of her work life.

Interestingly enough, it is in the government sector that women seem to be doing well. A quick scan of the government sector – the IAS, the IFS, the PSU organisations including banks, the educational institutes, the medical institutes to name a few – highlights the number of  women who have risen up the hierarchy. We have women as Chief Secretaries in States, Joint Secretaries at the Centre, Ambassadors of India, Heads of colleges, hospitals and more. Contrast this with the non-government sector where the number of women in top management is extremely small.

My hypothesis for this is based on anecdotal rather than empirical data. The hypothesis is that the government protects the seniority of the women even when they go on maternity leave. The government job, though secure in one sense, is also transferable. Women in the government are able to manage the mandatory transfers as well. Thus, one of the bogeys in the non-government sector – that of women not wanting to get transferred – can be laid to rest by examining the data from the government sector.

Is there a way that women themselves can raise their voice about this issue? Can the government assist in taking this forward in the non-government sectors? The answers to both is yes.

First the government. The HR ministry could institute special short e-learning courses for women on maternity leave. Qualification in these courses could be treated as additions to the CVs of women. The year taken off need not be seen as  a ‘holiday’ by the organisation but as time off for learning. As part of gender equality, men should not be barred from qualifying in these specialized courses!

Next the women themselves. Let us start with organisations that have women as CEOs and/or CXOs. Women within such organisations should engage with the senior women to bring about a change in the internal policies especially regarding women on maternity leave. I do believe, based again on anecdotal data, that there is really no difference in the HR policies with the focus on maternity leave between organisations headed by a woman or a man!

I do believe, based again on anecdotal data, that there is really no difference in the HR policies with the focus on maternity leave between organisations headed by a woman or a man!

As India and her women go to elect a government soon issues like these should be highlighted by first women themselves and then by media and other forums. It is in the overall interest of the country to encourage the women to stay the course in the workplace.

Sonu Bhasin is the founder of Families And Business and the author of The Inheritors – Stories of Entrepreneurship and Success. Views expressed are the author’s own.

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.