Catalyst, the global expert on accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion, is deeply concerned with the decreasing participation rate of women in India’s labour force. The percentage of women in India’s workplaces decreased from 37% in 2004-05 to 29% in 2009-10. It is commendable that the government has passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, which extends maternity leaves from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. To prevent the law from being counter-productive to women, organizations must also further their reintegration from leave programs to support the successful return of talented working mothers.
With the government not compensating organisations for extending maternity leaves, small- and medium-sized companies might become wary of recruiting women, as it would be considered an added cost to the company. Additionally, the longer women stay away from work, the more challenging it could get for them to re-join the workforce if adequate engagement and returnship programmes aren’t guaranteed along with the extended leave.
Another concern is that such a law reinforces the stereotype of women being the primary caregivers of their families. We believe businesses and governments should look at revising parental laws to help eliminate such socio-cultural biases and barriers. Equality in the workplace is predicated on equality in parenting and workplace policies to support both men and women as caregivers.
A positive aspect of the bill is that it mandates the provision of crèches for establishments having 50 or more employees. This amendment will help not only women, but all working parents who are seeking to better manage their work-life priorities—ultimately, to result in more engaged and productive employees.
The passing of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill shows that organisations and the government understand the business case for having more women employees in the workforce. Therefore, the next logical step is for organisations to take further steps to ensure smooth reintegration of women returning to the workplace after maternity leave. It is essential to implement returnship programmes and fair performance management systems that do not penalize women for maternity breaks as well as to make flexible work arrangements a business strategy for all eligible employees. Companies should also make the effort to ensure their women employees feel valued, since the sooner they re-integrate, the smoother the transition back to work and productivity will be.
Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit organization accelerating progress for women through workplace inclusion. With operations in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, and Japan, and more than 800 supporting organizations, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women's advancement with the Catalyst Award.