15 Oct Family-friendly work policies
A guy applies for a leave to take care of his new born child. His boss and co-workers are confused and cannot quite comprehend the logic behind this decision. The guy goes on to educate his perplexed co-workers that it is equally his right & responsibility to take care of his new born child as much it is of the mother.
Today, if you switch on a TV or browse YouTube you are sure to come across one of many inspiring advertisements with the following plot or something similar to it.The script might have different spins but the key message is the same “Shared Parental Responsibilities.”
Advertisements are a good way to get a glimpse of our society’s intellectual & visceral feelings. It’s what advertisers do. They understand things you care about and appeal to those feeling to make a sale. It was long due that we as a society acknowledges that the onus of child care should not fall on the mother alone.
India has dismal female workforce participation of 27%, compared to roughly 48.5% of global average.One of the biggest reasons attributed to the attrition of women from the workforce is motherhood.
A lot of research is being conducted to understand women opting out of work due to maternity and possible ways to retain them in the workforce. One of the possible solutions to address this issue is to have Parental leave, which allows the parents to avail paid leave and share child care responsibilities.
Why Need Parental leave when we have maternity leave?
While India has a policy for 28 weeks(around six months) paid maternity leave, this is only applicable to women employed in the organised sector and Even within the organized sector, the lack of support systems for childcare forces many women to either take a break or completely drop out.
Is shared parental responsibility feasible?
Though equity in early days of child-rearing might not be a feasible solution, due to biological constraints and the need for the mother to recuperate after childbirth; but after the first 3-4 months, it is. Many countries have now introduced paternity leaves and family leaves, in addition to maternity leaves, that can be used by fathers to take care of their infants. We know that women pay a maternity penalty in the form of a wage gap that primarily results due to their absence from the workforce. Longer and paid maternity leaves mandated by the Government also make employers wary of hiring women of child-bearing age.
There have been interesting cases that had a similar outcome but for men. Recently two male employees in Japan sued their employers for side-lining them after they took paternity leave. But to understand the context we need to understand three things about Japan: one is that though Japan has one of the best parental leave policies in the world owing to its decreasing population, it is also highly patriarchal and work-driven. The policies provide parental leave for up to a year and the Japanese government supports the companies by providing part of the subsidy. But the patriarchal setup ensures that women end up taking the entire leave or dropping out of the workforce altogether to bring up their children. The most interesting aspect is that men who also have an option to spend time with their children rarely do so because of the stigma around taking paternity leave. The case above illustrates the same. Many people after parental leave face a similar predicament. The Japanese firms have another grouse against such employees in a market that is very loyalty driven. They are seen to put “Family before Company”. This also deters any other men who might even contemplate taking such a leave. Such examples reinforce the existing social norms that are unfair to both men and women.
One might ask, how is this incident related to our country, where birth rates are still high and the economy a lower middle income? If offers an insight into the possible pitfalls that Governments might encounter in implementing such leave policies. Paid maternity leaves might place a similar penalty on them in the long run. Another important aspect is that unless policies are supported by changes in how we view gender roles and there are substantial changes in how gender stereotypes are addressed, only then a concrete change will be seen in how parental leaves are viewed and used.
It can be argued that on purely economic grounds, it makes more sense for companies not to shoulder the burden of paid leaves, but it is equally true that society reaps a lot of long-term benefits from these leaves. The infant mortality decreases, there is better bonding within the families and the whole economy benefits when both parents remain in the workforce. But some of the costs have to be taken up by the Governments as well or at least should support organisation to take this as a welfare initiative as society at large would benefit from it. Only then it will make sense for the companies to offer paid parental leaves without losing their competitive advantage in the market.
Other initiative that can be taken up as a part of the solution
The issue is complex, yet companies can start implementing simple but impactful measures to offer new parents support.
- Flexible work hours
We are already making a move to a new world where different people work different hours. With globalization & technology we no more bounded to specific work hours. Companies can utilize it to make work hours more flexible so strict work hours doesn’t not become an obstacle for new mothers.
- Work from home
Another solution which is being adapted by most companies is Work from home option.
- Good quality childcare facilities
Organisations can invest in good quality childcare facilities. Many organisations with 100+ employees may not have an infrastructure in the work place to make provision for childcare facilities. But a facility can be put up in a shared work complex where the company is situated and the cost can be borne by all the companies in the complex which makes it even practical and cost effective solution for companies.
- Mentoring and manageable workloads
Coming back after a break can be daunting for anyone and its especially true for new parents who have to juggle the additional workload of childcare apart from home and office. Having a mentor to ease back along with flexible workloads can help ensure that the employee doesn’t feel completely overwhelmed.
- Initiating a dialogue with the new parents
Every employee with child care responsibilities has problems that are unique to their situation. A constant exchange of ideas will ensure that they find a voice and are able to better adjust to the changing business environs and find solutions.
These points will help retain women in the workforce. Yet, there will always be some people who prefer to stay home and take care of their children. We should respect their choice and ensure that a lack of conducive environment is not the reason for it.