Maternity Benefits and the Elephant in the Room


On the face of it, the Maternity Benefit Amendment Bill 2016 has been welcomed by Corporate India with open arms. Passed in August last year, the bill came into effect of May 1, 2017, mandating companies to grant 26 weeks of paid leave for maternity care to pregnant employees, with additional facilities of a crèche at work places with more than 50 employees.

A handful of companies have gone the extra mile to implement the new law, even before it was formally passed and have been rightfully celebrated in the media. EY’s Maternal Coaching, Deloitte and HUL’s ‘Brining Women back to work’ and ‘Second career’ programmes are only a few that have realized the tremendous boost to GDP that women at work can bring.

A dark side to the law however, is the addition of another “excuse” that companies may now have, to reduce the already paltry number of women they employ. While not many businesses may be foolish enough to admit this upfront, it just makes that that much more difficult for someone with biases against women in the workforce, to break them.

It’s a sad reality, but if you are a married woman in your twenties or thirties, you may face the “second thought” syndrome from the other side of the table at an interview.

If this happens, and only time will tell, it may just lead to an increased trend of women exploring their own entrepreneurial ventures. With the businesses going more and more digital, investment-light and innovative, the access to the internet could often be the only pre-requisite to starting off one’s own venture.According to the Sixth Economic Census by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), released in April 2016, only 14% of Indian businesses are run by women. Though not for the best reasons, but this number could see a much needed upsurge by the next round of the census!

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