Despite the fact that female literacy and education enrolment rates have been rising, India today has lower levels of women’s workforce participation than many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, says a public report.
Given that many women in their 20s and 30s are the first generation of women going out to work, it is rather unfortunate that motherhood makes them step back within a few years of working! It’s not hard to comprehend why.
Even with the advent of progressive maternity and paternity leave policies, employers today (including multinational companies) have a long way to go in terms of socio-cultural acceptance.
Most mothers feel butterflies in their stomach at the end of their maternity leave. “Will I be accepted back at work?” “How will my kid be when I’m away?” and “Will I still be able to feed my baby?” are only a few of the questions which hound her. Here’s where the employer needs to step up and assure her that performance is all that matters. Her ‘new’ needs must be accepted and appreciated and the teams need to be sensitised about this.
Fortunately, I was part of a progressive team post my maternity leave, and here are a few things I highly recommend employers to have:
Sensitisation of the team to a mother’s needs: Brief the entire team on maternity and what it entails. If the team is bigger and comprises a lot of young adults, brief them thoroughly on maternity, feeding, and the likes to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what the woman is going through. This exercise, if not done, could brew unnecessary discomfort and discontent among team members.
Set up a daycare or tie up with one: Social infrastructure to take care of the baby in the mother’s absence is rather insufficient. The availability of a safe environment for her baby near her place of work can be a big determinant in deciding whether she continues to work or gives up her job.
If there’s a daycare near the workplace, consider setting up a pumping/feeding room: Even if the office has just one mother, this is a must-have! I have heard so many stories of mothers using the toilets to pump. Not only is it unhygienic, it’s one of the biggest reasons for mothers to drop off work (given that breastfeeding is key to good health both for the mother and baby). Equip the room with a couch, fridge, breast pads, water, and snacks. A feeding mother feels very thirsty and hungry during pumping or immediately after. Being considerate to her requirements during this time can go a long way in making sure she has trust in the organisation.
If there’s a feeding/pumping room, calendarise her feeding schedule: Pumping for feeds is not something she should be ashamed of. In fact, it must be celebrated! Most mothers pump at fixed times in the day and the team should mark it on their calendar. Other employees should ensure that no meetings are scheduled in this time frame so that she never has to choose between pumping and working.
Be empathetic, flexible, and non-judgmental: Coming back to work is not just a physical effort but a massive emotional undertaking. I personally always feel like I have more separation anxiety than my kid. There will be ups and downs in her work and, more importantly, in her mood. If the organisation trusts her performance, it is high time that she is given some flexibility in terms of clocking hours and deadlines. She probably needs to be away when her child is sick or she has to work from home on days when her childcare arrangement fails. For example, if a report is due by the end of the day, allow her time until the next morning as it will probably not be used till then. Maybe she is having a bad day with her baby. However tired she is, once the baby is off to sleep, she will make the effort to finish the work. Trust me, this alone can make the single largest difference in case you want to retain her in the long term.
Treat her with respect: If you are making all the above allowances but making them seem like special favours or grants, then you have lost the plot. Your organisation must take a call strictly based on her merit, commitment, and capability. She just needs a bit of empathy, not sympathy.
It is a tightrope walk for a working mother. Let’s try and make her and our society successful! Let us pledge to get those mothers back to work so that India grows, our economy grows, and most importantly, our children have a secure future and are not just dependent on their fathers’ incomes. Why should we continue to sing, “Mummy ki roti gol gol, papa ka paisa gol gol?”
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)