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Some time ago, I woke up to find myself smiling at the most pleasant news I have read on the front page for the longest time!
The Central government had increased maternity leave from 135 days to 180 days, besides introducing paid leave for two years for childcare!
This 'Child Care Leave' outlined by the Department of Personnel provides a paid leave period of maximum two years (730 days) during the entire service of a woman "for taking care of upto 'two' children, whether for rearing or to look after any of their needs like examination, sickness etc".
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It could also be availed of by a woman employee having just one child and be taken in addition to the extended maternity leave and would in no way affect the seniority. Whoa!
No dream this, I rubbed my eyes, the notification, came into force from September 1 this year!
The news took me back five years, when I was pregnant with my first child, and found it increasingly depressing to think how impossible it would be to continue working, soon after delivery.
I had heard about how young mothers working in the United States and United Kingdom, were encouraged by their organisations to continue working.
I couldn't help turn green hearing about their 'half work days' during pregnancy; two mothers sharing a single job profile and a year's paid leave, followed again by half days during the second year after child-birth. Not to mention a lax attendance policy, insurance, and a very sensitised workforce. Of course, this did not mean a pay cut, or a slowdown in the career graph.
Cut to India -- fantastic opportunities, a slow but sure collapse of the glass ceiling, but absolutely nothing for the woman, who decided to give equal attention to the demanding role of motherhood.
I loved my job. As a result, I didn't quit, and saw myself dragging pregnant me to office, feeling uncomfortable during long meetings which mostly began in the evening (I was working with the media).
I held no (permanent) offence to my peers or senior, they were in the middle of their own work pressures and had to live with optimal team sizes. The fact, which I admittedly enjoyed was that I was wanted in my workplace, more so when boss was traveling.
Plus, there was also the arduous task of getting the second line of managers ready before I left.
I suffered swelling in the feet, high BP towards the last trimester, and dark circles owing to lack of good sleep, caused by the growing baby. Every trip to the doctor reminded me that pregnancy is a time for rest. My doc didn't expect me to spend nine months in bed, but I wasn't supposed to have the same hectic activity levels as before pregnancy either, she reminded me.
Which brought me to a more basic question and made me take a hard look at the work culture around me --
My female colleagues were rather nice to me but very vocally afraid of motherhood. They postponed the decision to start families or decided against it altogether, to hold on to their careers. Most were not married, even in their mid thirties. One colleague, of the same age, actually got away with telling me I was an idiot to get pregnant before 35 (I was 26)! Another left her baby with a maid at three months, while he was still breastfeeding. And my Group head, a male, told me that I can't have my cake and eat it too!
Really? I wanted a career and a family. Was that such an oxymoron? Doesn't everybody want that?
My in-laws were still working, and in another city. I wondered why, everything around me was so anti-motherhood. As in, isn't it a very normal phase of a woman's life? And don't women make up if not half then atleast 1/3rd of qualified workforce?
I met my senior HR manager in the canteen and wanted answers, reassurance, or just plain comforting. He had children of his own and therefore surely knew what pregnancy did to the woman physically. I asked him, point blank, to explain to me, what the corporate fine print was:
~ Have a baby, forget your career?
~ Have a baby, leave him/ her with babysitting/ maid, for 10 hours a day, (eight hours and commute) for the first few crucial years of its life?
~ Have a baby, take it to the office creche (if there was one!) go scatter brained running from pillar to post being mentally absent at both places, and yes, definitely lose the promotions and increments wallowing in your career's biggest travesty.
~ And lastly, but most fundamentally, weren't the most successful people (according to psychiatrists around the world), the ones who were nurtured and loved by their mothers in early childhood? Weren't today's babies tomorrow's leaders?
He looked at me as if I were talking Greek. There was no part-time culture in this company, for anyone. He empathised, but had no answers. I guess, nobody did.
However, this is one side of the story and all experiences have not been so unpleasant.
Now, I'll tell you about a friend, Anchal Desai, who had a dramatically different experience, working in a sensitive organisation, which allowed her to feel great about her personal decisions.
A successful senior visualiser in the creative department at Hungama.com, Anchal had eight years work experience, before she was married and expecting. She was at the peak of her career, loved her job, rocked her team, and loved her professional life as deeply as her personal commitments.
Says Anchal, "When I realised that motherhood meant me having to eventually quit, I actually walked to my bosses office and wept for an hour saying: "I cant believe one baby can make me lose my career, and whole life of hard work!"
Her boss calmed her down, and promised to work out a profile to let her work from home. Anchal can never forget this moment for the rest of her life.
She had to complete some formalities, such as resigning and rejoining the same company as a consultant, and agree to get compensated on a project basis. It worked beautifully for her.
Anchal continues, "My question is, why should anybody lose their career for doing something so natural? Women have kids cause it's a natural life process; if we don't who will?
Also once her little baby was born, Anchal, like many working women, couldn't fathom leaving him in the hands of a maid, or creche, whose only relationship to the baby would be that of money.
At the same time being a housewife was something she couldn't fathom.
"It hurts my ego to be called a housewife, because I am not. I'm a qualified professional, and I like to be called that. Also, I love the financial independence my work gives me," she adds.
Today, Anchal puts in as many hours a day at work as her baby allows her. She loses sleep but always meets deadlines. She reports as unavailable only when the child is sick, as would any full time employee.
The flip side is that, at times, she sometimes gets residual work, and not the creme assignments, which naturally go to the full time employees. There are months when the money she makes is more than what she made working full time; whereas at times due to slack work seasons, work and pay is quite low.
But that's really okay, feels Anchal, as any mother would sacrifice guaranteed income and a few hours of sleep to be with her child.
Thanks to the way her boss dealt with her case, she has great respect and loyalty towards her company.
Once her kid is older, she plans to join back full time.
It makes a huge difference to her that the organisation she works with understands today's woman as what she is -- one who can manage both home and career with charming dexterity.
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