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Pushing the envelope for re-employability

Sameer Bora | New Delhi |

A woman employee can avail a maternity break of three months before getting back to work. Well, it is not as easy as it sounds. She may choose to split her break into two halves. In such scenarios, they ask organisations for an additional month of unpaid leave, which is something that most offices readily accept.

The Lok Sabha passed the historic Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, extending maternity leave from 12 week to 26 weeks. This progressive bill calls for celebration. However, this move may not have been received well by a lot of small firms. Unlike many established MNCs and private companies, these firms do not have the buffer resources needed to take up the role of women on maternity leaves. It is saddening to note that this kind of short-sightedness leads to some firms as a bump in the career of women.
The contribution of female employees to the economy is substantially less than that of males. Women take up a career early in their lives. However, because of familial responsibilities, they tend to quit their jobs as they get older. Hence, the percentage of older women in the workforce is quite low. Does this mean that they lack aspirations and a drive to prosper in their career? Absolutely not! The truth is that the system has not been accommodative of their aspirations. Organisations are often apprehensive of assigning women with strict deadlines, and challenging work doesn't seem to come their way. Such circumstances may eventually result to quitting their jobs.

Managing a job and home is not an easy task. Women have the right to unapologetically take a break if they think that they are unable to manage balance. However, planning can help them have a fulfilling professional life. Many established organisations allow employees to go on a sabbatical of almost two years if they have served tenure of a certain period. Furthermore, during their break, they can pursue professional courses and upgrade their skill sets. 

Employers need to be driven by logic and not apprehensions. If a woman employee is a good performer at work, she should be provided with full workplace support. Once an organisation realises that a female employee is important for its growth, efforts need to be made to keep her employed for a long time. They need to realise that women can be adept at handling responsibilities at work. 
Working from home for a few days won't hamper their productivity. With coordination, they can work comfortably over calls and e-mails. Moreover, the work of coders, writers, and members of several other professions is such that it can be carried out comfortably sitting at home. Employers should also consider allowing mothers with children staying at home to work on break shifts. Working on break shifts would mean that they can come to the office at 8 o'clock in the morning, work till noon and go home. They can attend their children till 4 o'clock in the evening, after which they can work till 8 o'clock. 

However, if a woman decides to go on a long break of two or three after delivery, an accelerated training session can be arranged for her in case continuous learning is crucial to her job role. 

The four-hour-long debate at the Indian Parliament on the new bill has brought up the issue of paternity leave too. A few members argued that men need to take care of their kids too since most present-day families are nuclear. Although nothing fruitful came out of the debate on this subject, having such debates is a positive step towards a gender-sensitive workplace that allows new dads to enjoy flexible working hours too.

Organisations do women no favour by bringing them back to work after their pregnancy. Every organisation has its own aligned interests. Hiring new employees, training and making them job-ready can be of a long and strenuous process. Hence, welcoming back an employee who had taken a break by extending support is more profitable and desirable than hiring new employees. Maternity leave is a woman's right, and an extended break should be entirely her choice.

The writer is Executive Vice-President, Corporate, Next Education.