Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Guide
Understanding moms Organisations are waking up to the fact that new mothers need support and empathy to balance their personal and professional responsibilities
In recent years, urban India has seen an unprecedented upsurge of the DINK (double income no kids) couples. Today, with the erosion of the joint family structure women are finding it difficult to balance the responsibilities of motherhood and work. “It is but natural that the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, which provisions 12 weeks of mandatory leave, cannot allay the apprehensions of women who have nobody at home to take care of their infants when they rejoin work,” says Sangeeta Guha, a Delhi- based wellness therapist and psychological counsellor.
“Many young women who come to me for depression counselling are contending with this problem. While some are already mothers of young infants who have given up their careers (at least temporarily), others are simply unable to make a decision about motherhood owing to the pressures of their high- profile and demanding jobs. What makes matters often worse is that today most couples have joint finances and joint loan repayment arrangements. It becomes very difficult for the women to take time off from their career for a good two to three years till their children can go to school,” explains Guha.
Interestingly, she observes, “I must say the majority (if not all) of such patients are working in the government sector which by and large is oblivious to concepts such as work from home, flexible work hours etc.” It is important to understand that every young mother has her own unique situations (which could be advantageous or disadvantageous) when it comes to family, finances and relationship with the spouse. In such a scenario, organisations must remember that blanket policies can often fall short, Guha adds.
Echoing this insight, Shilpa Patil, functional excellence lead of Cummins Group in India, says, “We offer a basket of maternity policies from which our women employees can choose those which best address their needs. For instance, after the mandatory 12-week leave period we provision an option of extending leave for another three months. Depending upon leave balance, this leave can be with or without pay. Then we also have a part-time work policy for new mothers. This means that the woman can take up a part- time role within the organisation where the workload is nearly 50% less of her earlier fulltime role. There are certain roles that have been specially created to cater to this need – in fact, our diversity head works in a part- time role. Though many of these part-time roles revolve around some of the softer functions like human resource, diversity and corporate social responsibility they do not exclude functions that are more business- specific. While working part-time women employees are extended all the benefits that come with a fulltime role like hospitalisation and accident insurance cover.’
Most organisations have their own unique policies for mothers of infants and young children. “Today almost all organisations are placing a very pronounced emphasis on diversity and inclusion. There is a growing consciousness to employ, retain and grow women employees in India Inc,” explains Patil.
The changes are being noticed? “I think the progressive policies of organisations coupled with the advancement of technology has made a huge difference to women professionals in India who have babies or very young kids,” says Aman Pannu, who heads corporate communications for DCM Shriram Consolidated Limited. “Earlier only women who commanded high profile designations could avail facilities (over and above the mandatory provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961) that helped to balance the responsibilities of motherhood with work. But modern day technology has made it possible for women to work easily and effectively from the comfort of their homes. All that is required is a little understanding and cooperation from their organisations by way of sanctioning flexible work timings,” she adds.
Pannu, mother of four-yearold Abeer, had taken maternity leave when he was born during her tenure as corporate communications head in Radico Khaitan. She says she has never faced any real challenge in terms of striking a balance between her son and her responsibilities at work. Apart from the understanding and support of her employers the presence of her in-laws helped too. “It’s so much more reassuring to leave your child with your mother- in- law than to leave him with a maid,” says Pannu. For others not living in a supportive joint family setup, “many organisations are ensuring that all their facilities have inhouse crèches,” says Guha.
Vaishali Heblekar, manager, branding and corporate communications, Cummins Group in India, who has just rejoined office after her maternity leave, says, “For me and millions of women like me it is the blend of family support and organisational support that can go a long way in making a huge difference.” And the good news is that both organisations and family members (particularly spouses) in India are starting to realise this fact and are making positive contributions. “While my organisation provisions me flexible work time and choice of work locations ( as per proximity and convenience) my husband helps to look after my three-monthold baby by coordinating his weekly offs with my work schedule,” she adds.