The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 passed recently by the Lok Sabha has evoked, as every Bill does, an analysis of the pros and cons that it may bring on the universe of people it is likely to affect. The Bill allows for employed women in the organised sector to claim 26 weeks of paid maternity (as opposed to the earlier 12 weeks) for the first two pregnancies. While on paper the Bill may seem to tick the right boxes, there is chatter in corporate hallways that this may not have been the smartest decision to make in the interest of women, and could possibly backfire for them.
Advertising and media agencies have, over the years, been having discussions in varied contexts about what keeps most women away from the top roles in a company.
It is no secret that with a traditional mindset still reigning over many agency head offices, male counterparts are still considered a ‘safe bet’ at the mid to senior level as opposed to hiring/promoting married women in their prime. The reason behind this most of the time is chiefly attributed to a woman’s ‘dual role’ between being a professional and a homemaker after office hours. With the creative space having a working style that does not limit work being done within the ‘nine to five’ bracket, it sometimes forces women to prioritise one role over the other.
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Nisha Singhania, director, Infectious, believes that the Bill has presented agencies with the opportunity to bring flexibility to accommodate women employees. “There are also times when after resuming work some mothers realise that they are not finding it easy to cope with both. That is fair in my mind and companies cannot expect employees to anticipate how they will feel when they are a mother,” she says. “Organisations need to be completely open-minded and flexible, and take a call as and when.”
Flexibility, especially in a highly demanding job as advertising, can come with its own set of side effects. Questions then arise that whether on resuming work, will the employee continue to be eligible for the annual benefits or say a promotion or incentive that she otherwise would have been.
Does the maternity leave hamper a woman’s chances of progress at the workplace? Lara Balsara, executive director, Madison World, says, “An employee from a good, progressive company will be evaluated only on the period when she was actively working and the maternity leave period will not hamper promotion prospects, if any,” she says.
To add, the Bill does say six months, but not everyone on maternity leave will want to utilise the full duration. Those in good health may even want to get back to their work sooner.
Srinivasan Swamy, chairman and MD, RK Swamy BBDO, points out how things have now changed and that both the company and the employee need to meet each other half way. “Women are very aggressive in how they pursue their careers. They will surely come back and be a part of the play, as long as there is adequate help at work,” he deduces. “Having said that, I don’t think any company will put pressure on them to come back to work sooner. But women should utilise the leave for the best of the child.”
Furthermore, there is also the question of whether it would matter more to a smaller sized agency than, say, a network, as to how long an employee is missing in action. Balsara doesn’t feel that is much of a concern considering how all agencies are structured in a way that there are very specific account teams handling specific businesses.