Eliminate Barriers for Women to Enter & Remain in the Workforce

Uma Rao, Corporate HR, Ashok Leyland Headquartered in Chennai, Ashok Leyland is one of Indian’s largest automobile company specializing in Automobile, Manufacturing, and Technology Services & Consultancy.

Power of parity is a concept that needs to be understood more & more by the corporates even as sporadic efforts are on in pockets in that direction. With 25 percent of women in the workforce in India, India’s GDP stands at 18 percent, which is one of the lowest proportions in the world.

This means that about 70 percent of the potential GDP opportunity comes from increasing women’s participation in the labour force by 10 percent points, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s recent report. Increasing participation of women in the workforce has to be seen in conjunction with their personal commitments towards family and children as primary care givers.

Birth of a child is a beautiful event in a woman’s life, but it comes with its riders! A recent meta-analysis showed that about 20 percent of mothers in developing countries experience clinical depression after childbirth. This might affect the growth and development of the child, mother infant attachment, breast feeding, and infant care. Moderate predictors of postpartum depression are childcare stress, low self-esteem, and maternal neuroticism, which can impact memory & concentration and lead to difficult infant temperament.

Child & mother care facilities and genuine support from employers remain a major concern for new mothers and are one of the major barriers for women to step into the labor market or even work for longer hours when compared to men. Many decide to quit job or look for other jobs which will support them.

Employers have to take it upon themselves to support women before and after maternity break by doing the following:

1. Discuss with the woman employee about her plans and support system before the maternity break, in fact as early as possible. Look for opportunities where employers can support.

2. Be flexible in terms of timings, work from home too sometimes (if the organization
does not have a policy which allows flexibility frequently), reduction in workload of the woman employee few weeks before and if need be after her maternity break.

3. Coach Managers to encourage the team to be supportive and caring of her, while woman is at work, on leave, and after her return. Such an atmosphere will make her long to get back and perform her best.

4. It’s also very important to launch ‘back to work’ initiatives for women employees when they return. Some large companies have successfully introduced initiatives and programs which focus on re-skilling women, especially in the technology space or provide structured programs on-boarding, flexible work-options, focused mentoring and on job learning for women candidates. Such initiatives act like a launch pad and will provide conducive environment to young mothers to address their concerns.

5. Provide clarity of the role when she returns.

6. Mentor or counsel her to mentally& emotionally balance the change.

7. Help with backup when the woman employee is about to proceed on leave and after she returns too to meet any unforeseen situations like issues of health before delivery, sudden absence of caretaker, urgent work delivery schedule where the young mother is reluctant to stay too long at work without a back-up child care facility and the like.

8. Be in touch with the young mother during her maternity leave through gestures like a congratulatory hamper upon birth of the child, some updates about the organisation and department, a visit during the period to the young mother’s house by colleagues with prior permission of course! These gestures enhance the feeling of being cared for.

Employers have to come-up with HR policies & processes which are women friendly like:

1. Ensure mental health is interwoven into child and mother care policies - arrange impactful interventions which can be delivered by well-trained, health providers to fight depression of a new mother. This would be much in lines of the policies of the World Health Organisation too.

2. Facilitate creation of support groups within the organisation to encourage new mothers to develop better self-esteem, nurture health as a priority with good exercise and nutrition.

3. Infrastructure support of a crèche or day care centre, breast feeding room and a special vehicle parking slot to enter and leave office early.

4. Allow a family member to accompany the pregnant woman employee on official tours if such travel is inevitable

On the part of the woman employee who wishes to be in employment, she needs to develop short-term and long-term career goals early on as this is the best way she can support herself and demonstrate her focus to her job. There after, it is important to have conversations around these goals with her boss before going on maternity leave and after returning too. While on maternity, it is expected that a woman takes good care of herself and the child. Even so, it may be good to give a reassurance to her team that she would be available to take a call or two in case of any issues. Women should look-up for child care options early on during their pregnancy. In general, when re-joining work after maternity break, every young mother must be mentally prepared to face challenges of acceptance and worthiness for a temporary period till finally the dust settles.