Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Indian Working Mother

Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer is again in the news for having scrapped the work from home policy of her company. Earlier she had returned to work days after delivering her baby and got panned by women’s groups for setting the wrong precedent. She now runs WiT, Women in Tech, a volunteer group that helps talented women enter and stay in the workforce. 
Indira Nooyi, CEO PepsiCo, in a recent interview, confessed that she would not have been able to concentrate on her career if not for the help and support of her husband in childcare for her sons. In contrast, the Mumbai local train ladies coup is a revelation. 
On a return trip from work, while a group of girls chatter about college, the older women have work to complete,before they reach home. Some of them catch up on much needed sleep, they hardly get 5 hours a night. One woman has the rice out, sifting through it, readying it for cooking. She will bring out the dal next. And some even have vegetables out on their laps, slicing and cutting them for curry to be cooked at home. They reach home too late to cut andcook the dinner.

Welcome to the world of the Indian working mother. More and more companies are waking up to the daily travails of the woman at the workplace in spite of the 12 weeks maternity leave provided by the Indian Government, and now realize one of the main cogs in the wheel to keep women in the workforce is to address the issues faced by the working mother.
India traditionally, has had low economic activity rates. Even now, a woman with a high level of education drops out of the race because they are overcome by the pressures of handling baby and work. 
A 2011 Nielsen study showed that 87% Indian women are stressed most of the time and 82% had no time to relax. The pressures of dealing with childcare without the accompanying support system of family or husband or proper infrastructure in the country in the form of nannies or crèches, adds to the stress. And still the number of working women has doubled in the last 15 years. There are about 5 % more women in senior levels in 2009 as compared to 2008 in Indian companies while Indian MNCs have seen a 15-20 % increase, a study by WILL, Women in Leadership forum has showed. 
However the problem lies at the mid level, where women, mainly in their 30s are seen leaving the work talent pool. Studies have showed that one of the main factors preventing women to return to work was childbirth.
What are the difficulties faced by the working mother
  • ·         Childcare and proper support during periods of illness of the child
  • ·         Stress of balancing motherhood and work, additional stress of domestic responsibilities
  • ·         Lack of exercise or proper nutrition leading to health problems
  • ·         Lack of support from family
  • ·         Lack of infrastructure in childcare

Companies are trying to bridge these gaps where they can. 
  • A lot of companies like Wipro, Infosys and HUL, have day care centers and crècheswhere mums can leave their children and come and check in on them at intervals. 
  • Various firms, including Vodafone and Mahindra and Mahindra have begun focusing on getting more gender diversity at senior leadership positions. This includes giving these women availability, location and role choices, as Ashok Ramachandran the HR Director of Vodafone India has said. The thought is that women bring plurality and different thinking in leadership style and values. Vodafone, which has 6% of their workforce as women, now plan to raise it to 15%.
  • Cisco is concentrating on developing business practices that reflect Indian culture and that include sense of family, while Sodexho believes in providing work life balance in order to win their search of good talent and hire women in leadership positions. The trend is to provide the opportunity to work part time, work from home, or telecommute by which employees can work from home 1-2 days a week. Other measures include relaxation rooms, lactation rooms or special car parking privileges to new mothers or pregnant employees. 
  • Zensar adopted such initiatives which have showed them remarkable results, increasing the percentage of women returning after maternity leave from 15 to 89%.
  • TCS global HR Head, Ajoy Mukherjee concentrates on increasing the presence of women in their global work force. He is proud that 11% of senior management in the company comprises of women. This has come with the flexibility offered by the company in terms of role by job rotations, and by not breaking the service record of women who take a sabbatical due to family pressures and want to return after a period of time. DAWN or Diversity and Women’s Network, a TCS initiative focuses on inclusion and helps women grow in their profession in the company.
  • PepsiCo has set up a Female Talent Council where women come together to share their experiences and provide help and support to each other. PepsiCo’s core senior team of 15 comprises 30% women. 
  • Accenture has an Hours That Help program by which their employees can donate their leave hours to their colleagues who need additional paid leave for any reason, including child birth and caring for a new child. The company provides medical cabs and escorts for expecting mothers.
  • While Google India offers insurance for all delivery and new born health related matters, IBM arranges workshops to train in house nannies and ayahs in order to provide better care for children at home while their mums are at work.
  • Companies are even taking into account couples who adopt babies by including “adoption leave”. The employee gets 3 months paid leave when they adopt a child. Google also takes care of the adoption expenses, including legal fees.
  • SAP India’s VP HR Bhuvaneshwar Naik has talked about the clear association between benefits to the working mother and retention. In 2007 19 of 61 women who went on maternity leave, came back to work. In 2012, the number was 128 out of 134.

This goes to show that if a company shows that it cares about its women employees and makes it easier for them to work after childbirth, more women will be interested in coming back to work and concentrate on their careers. While more can be done, like mentorship programs for new mothers or paternity leave, for instance, these companies have shown the path in terms of best HR practices which actually retains talent where it is lacking most- middle and senior management of the company. This is not just a fresh change in the Indian workplace but also great news for mothers who would like to continue working or return to work after having children.