Sree Lost Her Performance Rating For Taking Maternity Leave. Fair To Working Mothers?

Women's taking maternity leave often coincides with a time in their careers when they are peaking. Employers need to be fair and make sure women are not penalised for this biological necessity.

Women’s taking maternity leave often coincides with a time in their careers when they are peaking. Employers need to be fair and make sure women are not penalised for this biological necessity.

Sree has been working as an insurance underwriter with a reputed bank for the last 4 years. In these four years, she has never availed leaves for more than a week or 10 days at a stretch. Even for her wedding, she took only 10 days off – 3 days before the wedding and a 5-day honeymoon. It was a decision that Sree and her husband agreed upon so that both their jobs did not suffer.

Sree was 31 when she got married and the couple knew that the biological clock was ticking. When she conceived within 6 months of the wedding, the couple was on top of the world.

Sree worked through her pregnancy to be able to use the entire span of maternity leave post her delivery with her baby. It was a relief that the latest amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act increased the duration of maternity leave to 6 months. Sree gave birth to a healthy baby and embarked on a fresh journey as a mother.

Five months later, Sree found her annual appraisal report in her mailbox – something she was eagerly waiting for. She had worked really hard and by the time she had left for her maternity leave she had achieved 98% of her targets. Realistically, she knew she couldn’t expect a 1 or 2 (the highest) comparative rank, but a 3 (moderate) would satisfy her. When she opened her report, she found a ‘4’ – meaning the organisation found her performance to be just satisfactory enough to not ask her to leave. She could continue with her job, but without any increment. Sree was upset, yet let it go. Probably these are things that accrue to one, with being a woman.

Towards the end of 6 months, Sree called her boss to request for an extension of her leave (unpaid). The boss was clear in telling her that the team had just been managing without her since she left. He had not been able to sanction long leaves for any of the team members because they were all working hard to fill in for her. The peak season had been extremely hard on the team in her absence. The rant went on for almost 20 minutes. Sree just reacted with one statement, “Sir, I thought I wasn’t that significant for the team.” The manager not realising what Sree was getting to eagerly responded, “No Sree! You are an asset to the team. And the team is eagerly waiting for you to join back.”

Sree took a deep breath and blurted out “Yes sir, that’s why there’s a 4 rank for me in this year’s appraisal. Sir, my daughter needs my attention right now, I’ll call back to discuss my leave at your convenience. Let me know when we can talk again.” And bit her lips as she disconnected the call.

Who’s fault is it?

Is it Sree’s fault for expecting fair treatment? Or is it Sree’s boss’ fault? For it does seem that he was exploiting Sree’s situation, doesn’t it? I would say it was neither of their faults. It was the system’s fault.

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Sree was an easy target. In a culture of comparative ranking where managers have to fight for their team members in a blood bath like scenario, Sree became a scapegoat. Whatever the reason was, she wasn’t there during the peak performance season.  It was unfortunate yet practical for the manager to not pursue a good performance rating for her.

What is unfortunate in cases where women have to take a break due to weddings or maternity? These are life events which most individuals expect to embark on at some point in time in their lives.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that the peak time for career progression and the time when a woman’s biological clock begins to tick coincide. Right when a woman begins expecting returns on the hard work she has put in for almost a decade, her biological system tells her to change the route or take a call. She just cannot have the best of both worlds.

It is unfortunate that even in these times when it has been proved that women managers are equally capable or even better than their male counterparts in most roles, organisations do not take into account the fact that it’s only women who can bear children. They do not have an option to be able to pass on this job to their husbands so that their career does not suffer.

Taking maternity leave is entirely natural

Is it too difficult for organisations to design policies that do not discriminate against women for bearing children?

One basic policy mandate that could have saved Sree the embarrassment of a 4 rating after three years of being rated 1 or 2, is that the evaluation period for her could have been restricted to the time period before she went ahead with her maternity leave. A weighted score for the performance period can then be compared fairly with the score of other team members.

Organisations may also choose to design their policies to give a standard ‘benefit of situation’ rating to an expecting employee based on a customised performance metric. The ranking may be decided depending upon her weighted performance for the number of months worked during the appraisal cycle before leaving on the maternity leave.

Organisations need to look at maternity leave cases keeping in mind the fact that the percentage of total employee population going to be on maternity leave in one performance evaluation cycle is meagre.

Most women in the corporate world in our country feel victimised because they went on maternity leave. How to make the organisational environment fair and friendly for employees joining post-delivery is a matter for a separate discussion altogether. The organisations could at least start with being fair to women for performing with all the sincerity before they went off work to take care of a role that they have been cut-out for by nature.

First published at author’s blog

Image via Unsplash

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