Maternity Benefits: A case of reverse feminism?


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.)


  1. Mruthyanjaya Rao- You have hit the nail on the head with this writeup. Bull’s eye!
    Unfortunately HR fraternity is blamed when the fact is that if top management is not far sighted, HR cannot go against them and take independent call.
    May it be forbidden but the belief that “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good” might get stronger with such mindset. The twice could even change to thrice!
    At the same time, with such a drastic change, some pangs are bound to be there. Hope this would be leveled in some years from now.

  2. Dear Rao,
    That was easy calculation. Now get on finding the cost of setting up a Creche in place like Mumbai and try to figure out the amenities to be provided for number of existing babies and for next three years for the babies which the stork will bring !!!

  3. This can not be generalised. It largely goes with the philosophy & ethos of the organization. There are cos. which have been following such practises since long. Govt. has actually learnt from them now. Leaders of the organization which has different set of principles, will certainly respond this way. There are several other measures to improve productivity. Have we tried them all?

  4. Funny way to present the truth, MM. Slowly but surely Indian industry will evolve in their own way. But there are business owners without humanism. Employees must collectively and tactfully fight against them. Anyhow, bosses are experts at finding loopholes in rules and employees are experts in following them strictly. But amazing to see the fictitious reality.

  5. This is a very classic scenario in any organisation. This issue is of a wrong thought process some people carries. I would like to have female team members in my team because they are honest, hard workers, don’t switch jobs very often.

    This can happen to a male employee as well like he meets with an accident, stay out of action for 6 months. In this scenario what to do?

    This gender biased thought process has to be changed, the best way i think is woman reservation of 30% in all sectors.

  6. This is very hypothetical and extreme scenario that you have covered. While I accept that some organizations may think like the way you have presented, there are a number of good and sincere ones, who have adopted this policy change in true spirit. I believe that most of the people oriented companies (usually in the area of services) have started accommodating this policy and fortunately they form the majority of the women working population.
    However, I agree that some organizations may think and/or act as you have mentioned. It is important to counter them and prevent such misalignment from happening. With this policy announcement, it is important to set up regulatory measurements for the organizations to track and report their gender diversity.

  7. 3 Options –
    1. If possible change the boss and bring in someone who can think inclusively.
    2. Else if he is the founder and CEO then coaching will really help.
    3. Else the HR Head has to quit, god save the company

  8. Thanking you Sonal Shree for reading my article. Yes, though it is almost true that HR cannot go against the Management, yet there are some HRs who are opinion makers. They at least try to influence the decisions.

  9. Thank you Naresh Taneja for reading the article and for your comments. Yes, these are all the issues that one has to take care of during implementation.

  10. Dear Ketan Desai, I am glad that you read and commented on this article. I agree with you that it cannot be generalized. It is as much true as one cannot depict each and every scenario in one article. I tried to articulate just to show the other side of the picture.

  11. Dear Prasad Kulkarni, Sreedhar Karri, Ashish & RR,

    I thank each one of you for sparing your time to read this article and for offering your valuable comments. Yes, this is a hypothetical articulation just to show what if the employer does the way it is shown here. And I sincerely wish that the options given by RR would work out in the real sense.

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