India Expands Leave for Working Mothers

India Expands Leave for Working Mothers

The Indian Express reports that India’s government intends to increase the maternity leave employers are required to grant new mothers from 12 to 26 weeks. Itika Sharma Punit and Madhura Karnik at Quartz point out that the new mandate might not be entirely good for working women there:

If approved in the parliament, the new policy could be both a blessing and a curse for female employees.

Even though a few large private companies already offer a long leave to new mothers, there are fears that a mandatory six-and-a-half months of maternity leave may deter employers from recruiting women. HCL Technologies, Godrej and Hindustan Unilever currently allow 180 days (over 24 weeks) of maternity leave.

“A blanket maternity leave sounds like a good idea and the move is absolutely well intentional, but it could be slightly detrimental because six months is a long time. In today’s time, business cycles are short and a lot can change at work within a couple of months, so coming back to work after a gap of six months can be hard,” Sairee Chahal, founder of SHEROES, a portal exclusively for women job seekers, told Quartz.

Indeed, the real challenge when it comes to retaining mothers in the Indian workforce may have less to do with them not getting enough leave and more to do with organizations’ lack of effective “re-onboarding” procedures:

“While extending maternity benefits is a commendable step to retain women employees, reintegrating them back to the workforce is essential. Companies must ensure that fair performance management systems are in place and do not penalise women for maternity breaks,” Sachi Irde, executive director of Catalyst India Women’s Research Centre, a non-profit told Quartz in an email.

According to research by Catalyst (pdf), around half of working women in India fail to reach roles that are beyond the junior or mid-level, mainly because of responsibilities after marriage and childbirth. In rest of Asia, this number is 29%.