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A woman’s corporate career today is often cut short by maternity, but it doesn’t have to be, if companies saw pregnancy as a natural part of life.
“Climbing stairs is difficult during pregnancy, whether it be literal steps or the corporate ladder”. These words, randomly uttered by one of my childhood friends struck a nerve with me.
My friend since college, Prajakta was one of those people who always knew what they wanted to do with their life. Hence, while the rest of us were busy trying to test the waters of the corporate world, Prajakta was already charting her own course and taming torrid seas. The allure of Marketing had drawn her into the media sector and she rose rapidly in the ranks. Her innate sense of consumer understanding and her passion for product marketing soon earned her many accolades. A decade into her corporate career, she met her soul mate and soon commenced her matrimonial journey.
The pressures of her career, and her constant travel schedules did not bode well for planning a family initially but, a ticking biological clock made her rethink her decision. Happily, she conceived and things seemed ship-shape. Both husband and wife were ecstatic with the news and the initial pregnancy itself proved easy.
However, although her personal life flourished, Prajakta sensed a withdrawal in her professional life. The assignments that she was perfect for started going to other colleagues. The meatier field studies were assigned to other peers and Prajakta was handed down assignments related to research compilation and analysis.
Although the attitude of her superiors and peers remained solicitous and ever helpful, Prajakta sensed a withdrawal in their manner when it came to discussions on ongoing assignments. Could she be over thinking things? Could it be that her pregnancy hormones were making her overtly sensitive? Was she misjudging the situation? These and many other such questions also coursed through her mind as she spent endless days sifting though mind-numbing data and sitting at a desk tapping away at her computer.
Prajakta may have been wrong. Maybe even entirely so! Her colleagues and peers could have been trying in their own way, to be helpful towards an expectant mother. They may have been misguidedly trying to ensure her welfare by ensuring that she be given less taxing assignments in order to ease her pregnancy. Prajakta could have misjudged the situation at her workplace!
But, sadly the inverse is true in a lot of organizations. Although, the maternity benefit Act 1961 protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity and entitles her to ‘maternity leave benefit‘ – i.e. full paid absence from work – to take care for her child and also prohibits discrimination against women employees on account of pregnancy or related conditions yet, at times expectant mothers in Indian corporate are often regarded as free-loaders who draw a salary for the work that the management has to pass on to other employees.
Not all may agree with this statement and indeed companies today are becoming more cognizant to an expectant mother’s needs. A few companies in India with noteworthy initiatives in this area are Flipkart, Accenture, Google, TCS, Godrej, Marriott hotels, ICICI, Pepperfry etc (sources: https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/10-companies-in-india-that-take-great-care-of-their-employees-243744.html and https://yourstory.com/2016/05/workplaces-mothers/ ). This is by no means an all inclusive list but it is hopefully a teaser for better and more initiatives to come from Indian corporates when it comes to maternity breaks for women.
Perhaps, more companies would follow suit if Indian industry started to view maternity as a natural progression in the life curve of a woman and not as the end of her professional career. If this viewpoint could change then women would not have to give up their jobs in order to bear children. They would not be forced to take sabbaticals. But, till such a time dawns, the fact remains that there are more companies in India that still need to adopt a broader perspective when it comes to procreation.
First published here.
Image via Pixabay