Maternity Benefits: A case of reverse feminism?

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Would the amendments in the Maternity Act make professional progress smoother for females or indirectly create new roadblocks?

The following is just a narrative, not indicative of anyone or any organisation. Any resemblance to the positions or situations narrated herein is a miracle or a coincidence. All the people portrayed here are fictitious.

The BOSS calls an urgent meeting to discuss an important issue. His EA circulates an email agenda among all the hiring managers, business leaders and HR leaders.

Meeting begins.

BOSS: Hello everyone! You are all aware of the amendments in the Maternity Benefits Act — what do you think are the major changes we need to make now?
HR Leader: (Well versed with the new terms and prepared with a PPT) I will explain Sir.

Point by point, he explains all the new terms— starting from the 26 weeks of paid leave, to work from home flexibility and the mandate for organisations with over 50 employees to provide a crèche in office.

This will benefit about 1.8 million women in the organised sector and increase the strength of the working women force.

This is the gist for your immediate reference. (Hands over a printout — given to him by the HR operations personnel — to the BOSS).

BOSS: Hmm… Good. I asked you last week to get me certain reports. Have they been prepared?

Group HR Head: Yes, Mr. Ramanujam who handles HR Analytics and HRIS (HR Information Systems) is ready with the reports. Ramanujam, can you please proceed with your data?

Ramanujam: Yes, sir. (Starts PPT).
1. Our total employee strength in all our Group Companies is 15,453.
2. Gender ratio is 65 per cent male and 35 per cent female.
3. So, there are a total of 5,408 women employees.
4. 16 per cent of women employees, that is, 865 are working out of the head office, Delhi. Rest (84 per cent) of the 4,543 are working in various branches.
5. 454 (10 per cent) women employees are in the East, 682 (15 per cent) in the West, 2044 (45 per cent) in the South and 1363 (30 per cent) in the North of the country.

BOSS: Thank you Ramanujam. This is okay. I don’t want all these details. Have you worked out the age group of women employees?

Ramanujam: Yes sir. (Skips a few slides in the PPT and begins explaining) There are 2,920 women employees (54 per cent of total women) are in the age group of 20–30 years (including interns), 2,055 are in the 30–40 years bracket, 379 in the 40–50 years category, and 54 are above 50 years old.

BOSS: There you are! So, we have a total strength of 15,453. Out of this, 5,408 are women employees and 2,920 are under the age group of 20–30 years. Right?

Ramanujam: (Feels happy that the BOSS has understood his calculations and is able to sum it up in a minute) Yes, sir. Absolutely!

BOSS: This is our target group. Okay. Thank you Ramanujam. Keep up the good work. You can leave now and proceed with your work.
Turns to group HR head and asks – Do you have any idea as to how many offer letters were issued so far to women candidates, who are yet to join and in which age group do they fall?

Group HR Head: We have released approximately 350 offer letters during the recent campus recruitment drives and job fairs. Out of 350, almost 90 per cent of women candidates have been up to the mark.

BOSS: Do one thing. Please enquire with all these 90 per cent of female candidates about their marital status. For those who are married, try to probe them on their opinion about raising a family. See if there is any possibility of postponing the joining dates of fresher female candidates. Also, do not absorb any female interns, especially in the age group of 25–28. Lastly, try to discourage the 54 per cent of existing employees, i.e., 2920 women workers in that age group, to continue in their jobs here. Gradually, replace these 2,920 candidates with men.

Group HR Head: Sorry, but I do not understand as to why such drastic changes need to be carried out?

BOSS: See, we have to fine tune our company policies and HR practices according to the Government’s policies. It is very common in the industry. Don’t you know?

We have to adopt the situations in a way such that our productivity level remains unchanged if not reduced. The Government announces social welfare measures such as this— increasing the maternity leave from three to six months, etc. — because of its various pressures. It’s all good on their part, but who will face the board of directors and stakeholders later if our overall productivity and profitability go down? Who will take up the additional work during the period of six months that a woman employee is away on maternity leave?
It does not work out with organisations like ours. Particularly, with all our 12 startup Group companies, it is highly impractical.

Mruthyanjaya Rao

Group HR Head: No sir. It is a wrong assumption. Most of the organisations in sectors like IT, e-commerce, BPOs, telecom, etc. have already been granting six months leave, and there are reports showing that the productivity of the women employees who availed these benefits actually doubled. (Tries to explain)

BOSS: Please, no more discussions. Do as I said.
I request all hiring managers/business leaders to take part in this initiative and make necessary changes. (Leaves the conference room).

Group HR Head: (Comes out shocked) He thinks – now, what should be the next course of action with regard to all the maternity leave applications already submitted? Who is the right person to communicate effectively with all the 2920 + 90 per cent of fresher candidates, who were assured of jobs, but yet to join?

(Clueless) Who is to be blamed for this change? Government, which introduced the Bill benefitting millions of women? Or the employer, who is not willing to take up the women employees under the said target group, for the myth he has in mind?

Feels concerned about the further assessment of the target group — women employees— if all companies think the way his boss does!

(The author works with the Karvy Group. The views expressed in this article are those of the author in his personal capacity.)