This Mother’s Day I want to dedicate to mothers who are making a comeback to join the workforce after availing maternity leave.
An ad by Tanishq perfectly represents what I wanted to say. In an endearing two-minute film we see a young woman coming in for an interview and telling about her 14-month experience of working at ‘Life Bootcamp Corp’. She explains to the perplexed interviewer how “Overnight, I had to fill in the position of a leader,” and how she had to “train a complete newbie.” In the end in an interesting twist, the man interviewing her tells her that she doesn’t quite fit the position she is applying for but is actually ready for something bigger.
This woman is Radhika, and she is giving a new spin to maternity leave. From rebranding the leave as a life Bootcamp to training a complete newbie to listen to elderly advice, but learning to trust her own decisions, the interview is a stimulating departure from Mother’s Day clichés we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
The ad reiterates the fact the women of today are seeking to express themselves with honesty and authenticity to confidently celebrate their realities. The campaign not only encourages mothers to return to work but also to claim their maternity leaves as valuable work experience.
With the starkly shrinking number of women in the workforce, it feels great to see corporates encouraging women to join back after giving birth. According to a new data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt, a private research firm in Mumbai and reported by Bloomberg, about 21 million disappeared from the workforce, and now only 9% of the eligible working-age population are employed or looking for positions. Though women represent half the population (49%) they contribute only 18% of its economic output, about half the global average.
Also studies suggest that it will take at least 136 years to close the global gender pay gap, and one of the biggest factors for this is the lack of representation of women in senior leadership. We need more workplaces to see beyond the authoritative culture and norms, to value the phenomenal leadership metamorphosis mothers undergo, and create an equitable environment for women, so that they can make their comeback.
Getting experienced women to join back in the workforce should be the first thing on the minds of corporates and governments. Till that happens here are some reasons women are reluctant to join back after maternity leave. Things we need to ponder upon.
Have to start from the scratch
Everyone has made women believe that the gap in their resume puts them on the backfoot. But women should know that maternity leave is anything but a break, it is akin to a Bootcamp in the journey called life. Yet women are ready to wiggle, take paycuts, agree to a demotion, all this to prove themselves. What if mothers didn’t have to start from scratch?
The challenge is real that if women take an absolute break, it is very difficult for them to come back. They have their peers up the ladder, and they have missed something during the period, and are left behind and this is a critical factor that needs to be addressed. This sure is a long overdue conversation in India, and Mother’s Day is a moment as good as any to further this narrative.
The mom guilt
First it’s their own separation anxiety and mom guilt of leaving their baby behind that hinders new moms from joining back, add to that the mom guilt others (spouse, immediate family members, colleagues, friends) saddle her with. If women are not brought up with the thinking that careers are as important as becoming a mom, women will feel guilty of leaving their babies behind with caretakers.
I believe it’s the duty of the society, workplaces and families to ensure that a woman doesn’t feel guilty of her decision to join back work. Who can forget Kareena Kapoor Khan, Neha Dhupia and most recently Bharti Singh getting trolled for joining back work after giving birth? They are celebrities; imagine the guilt common women are laden with.
No family support
In India it’s believed that the mother is the primary caregiver to her children. Men are not obliged to partake in this task, they are the breadwinners for their families and women are meant to look after the house and kids. Its okay when women work before getting married and before having a baby also but once they become mothers they are supposed to forget everything else and just be a mother. Mostly all women succumb to this pressure; they have no choice without the support of their spouses or families.
Suggested Reading: A Different Perspective On Motherhood
Too many exit points for women at work
Marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, childcare, elderly care, lack of family support, and an unsupportive work environment are the key exit gates for women from the workforce. Demotions of returning mothers also often lead to resignations. This is because women face discrimination at all stages. There is a greater reluctance among companies, especially in smaller cities, to hire young women: They are apprehensive of both marriage and pregnancy.
If we look at findings of reports from the International Labour Organization, the National Sample Survey Office etc., we find that while 27% of women in the Indian workforce join work, about 48% drop out within four months of returning from maternity leave, 50% drop out mid-career before the age of 30 for childcare. Only 16% of senior leadership roles are held by women.
So, this Mother’s Day, let’s give moms the chance to follow their hearts and achieve their dreams even if that means joining back work. For if they are happy their children and families will be happy.
Views expressed are author’s own.