Paternity Leave- A Fad or a Foundation for a More Gender Equitable Society? 0

Traditionally, men were supposed to be the breadwinners and women caregivers. But with increasing participation of women in the formal workforce, it has become essential that companies promote work-life balance and family-friendly policies for all employees. The article explains how paternity leave policy has the ability to change the social fabric of society and promote gender equity in both the working and private sphere.

Zomato recently created waves by announcing paternity leave at par with maternity leave in India and probably became the first Indian organisation to do so. About 47% of countries in the world do not have a national policy guaranteeing paid time-off to new fathers, and we are one of them. Interestingly, 66%1 of the children are born in
these (47%) countries. At this point, most of the paternity leave policies are ‘check in the box’ offering 5-15 days of paid leave to new fathers. So what does leave of 5-15 days within the first few months of birth (as that is how the current policies are structured) solve for? It allows for leave immediately before and after the birth of the baby as
it is extremely important to have the father around then to take care of pertinent responsibilities like last-minute shopping, driving to the hospital, handling formalities, informing family, greeting or avoiding guests, etc. But is that the only role of the father in the life of the newborn and the other half? So, is paternity leave a fad or a necessity? Can it influence the social fabric of society? If it is a necessity, then what should be the structure to make it meaningful and economically feasible in a developing country like India where males constitute 71%2 of the workforce?

Paternity Leave- A Fad or a Foundation for a More Gender Equitable Society?

Is paternity leave a fad or a necessity? Can it influence the social fabric of society?

Our existing stance on paternity leave solves the immediate situation as mentioned earlier. After the first few days, fathers are gone and it is only the mother who is available full-time for the child, irrespective of employment status.
The mother takes care of the child independently with little help from the father. In the process, she also develops a strong emotional bond and possessiveness for the child. Thus, when the time comes to rejoin the workforce, both the parents are not confident about the ability of the father to share the responsibilities.

These first few months define the role of women as not just the primary caregiver but also the sole caregiver. Thus, a large number (43% globally) of women end up giving up their careers to raise their children. This trend is also
because of the advent of nuclear families in urban and semi-urban India where the experienced hands of grandparents are not close enough for support.

India inherently is a patriarchal society where men are supposed to be the breadwinners and women caregivers. The extended maternity policy of 26 weeks launched in April 2017 with all good intent, is inadvertently cementing the
thought process by systematically supporting the same. According to the World Bank data, women’s participation in the workforce was steadily increasing since 2012 however in 2018, there they have reported a decline for the first time after 5 years of consistent increase. Whether this was a coincidence or an indication of the future, will be seen in the years to come.

With women participation rate at 24%, India at present is ranked at an abysmal 120th out of 131 countries surveyed by the World Bank (2018). The global average for women workforce participation stands at
48%, which is twice of India’s rate.

Paternity leave policy has the ability to change the social fabric of society by increasing women’s participation in the formal workforce. This will increase the social health by addressing social evils like dowry, female foeticide, domestic violence and so on. Women (girl child) will not be seen as cost centres but as possible revenue centres, and we all know-how management and boards love revenue centres, be it those at corporations or our own families. The change will be gradual but deep-rooted. I am not insinuating that paternity leave is the panacea for all our problems but it will be a stepping-stone. At least the women employed in the formal workforce will not quit work and in the
process will inspire more women to see themselves playing roles beyond the stereotypical ones. I need not iterate the importance of increased women’s participation in the growth of our economy.

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So, does the father’s presence impact the development of infants at an early stage? As per UNICEF4, fathers who are available for their children right from birth, are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development. Research also suggests that children who have positive interactions with their fathers have better psychological health, self-worth, and life- satisfaction in the long-term. As per another research5, infants with more involved fathers in the first few months after birth, develop better cognitive ability. Children who see only their mother caring for them, not only develop a stronger bond with her as opposed to the father but are automatically taught that it is the mother’s sole responsibility to take care of the children’s needs. Thus embedding the gender stereotypes deeper into society.

The introduction of meaningful paternity policy is required for the economy as well as the wellbeing of the society, which unquestionably makes it a necessity.

If it is a necessity, then what should be the structure to make it meaningful and economically feasible in a developing country like India where males constitute 71%6 of the workforce?

You must be thinking that the debate on whether 26 weeks of maternity policy is economically viable for companies has not ended and here I am proposing a stronger paternity policy on top of that. I must not be thinking straight.

US and China may be leading the world economy but are nowhere close to policies on parental leave policy. Some of the countries with exemplary paternity leave policies are Finland, Norway, Hungary, Sweden, Slovenia, Iceland, and Estonia.7 Incidentally, 4 of these 7 countries also feature in the top 10 ranked countries in the World Happiness Survey 2018. Finnish fathers are granted eight weeks of paid leave and mother 23 weeks. They can also opt for childcare leave after the child is 3 years old. Norway offers flexibility wherein fathers can take between zero and 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income while mothers can take 35 weeks at full pay or 45 weeks at 80% pay. Many of the new age organisations like Facebook, Twitter, etc are going for gender-neutral parental leave. They are offering 12 to 52 weeks of leave for all new parents in their organisations.

I can go on with the examples but the moot point here is the flexibility to new parents to opt for an option as per their need. The cost of the same need not be borne by the organisation alone but can be shared with the beneficiaries.

UN recommends a minimum of 16 weeks of rest for new mothers. We as a country have decided to stretch the same to 26 weeks of paid leave in all generosity. If we adopt a parental leave policy incorporating both, the UN’s recommendation and our society’s requirement and at the same time solving for economic feasibility, it will be more than a win-win for all. It will be a victory for our future generations as well.

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Paternity Leave- A Fad or a Foundation for a More Gender Equitable Society?

Therefore, what I propose is as under:

• For mothers an option between 16 weeks of fully paid leave and 12 weeks of fully paid leave combined with 8 weeks of partially paid leave
• For fathers, an option of up to 8 weeks of leave, part of which can be on full pay

The leaves should be allowed anytime in the first year of birth so that fathers can take up the role of primary giver after the mother resumes work if required.

In the above proposal, the employers are likely to give 10-20% less the total number of paid days to both men and women versus the present policy of 26 weeks of maternity leave. I will not deny the fact that financial liability may increase because at present our corporates are male-heavy at the top. This reflects the sad state of our society so with this change it will be in the interest of organisations to have more women climbing to the top. This is in the
interest of the overall wellbeing of the organisations as proven by numerous studies by Gallup, GPTW, etc. We can also start with offering the benefit for at least one child. It will still be a start.

It is also important to be cognizant of the fact that just the introduction of paternity leave will not mean that men will start opting for it as shown by the Aviva experience and a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)9. Having said that we can cross that bridge when we at least have sight of the bridge.

I urge all my fellow HR practitioners and business leaders to take lead and institute reasonable paternity leave without waiting for someone to force us to do it by way of regulation. This will not just make us a preferred employer but also help us in solving one of the biggest challenges faced by India Inc. – hiring talent. This change will let us tap into the blue ocean of women’s talent and at the same time also reduce the mental barriers of hiring managers.

Some of the countries with exemplary paternity leave policies are Finland, Norway, Hungary, Sweden, Slovenia, Iceland, and Estonia. Incidentally, 4 of these 7 countries also feature in the top 10 ranked countries in the World Happiness Survey 2018.

This systemic change can alter the social fabric of the society to a more gender-equitable where both men and women can choose to be breadwinners, caregivers, or both, thus laying the foundation for a society that we all can be proud of.

Disclaimer:

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of IDFC AMC

References
1 Report by UNICEF 
2 United Nations: http://in.one.un.org/ unibf/gender-equality/ 
3 World employment social outlook (2018) by the International Labour Organisation
4 UNICEF: https://www.unicef.org/press- releases/2-3-infants-live-countries-where- dads-are-not-entitled-single-day-paid-paternity
5 Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University
6 United Nations: http://in.one.un.org/ unibf/gender-equality/
7 https://www.businessinsider.in/The-8-countries-with-the-best-paternity-leave-policies-in-the-world/Norway/slideshow/59206725.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
8 https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/11/avivas-paid-parental-leave-shows-men-are-eager-to-share-childcare-duties/
9 https://www.oecd.org/policy-briefs/parental-leave-where-are-the-fathers.pdf

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Rashmi Agarwal is the Vice President- Human Resource at IDFC Asset Management Company Ltd. She is an experienced HR specialist with about 10 years of experience working in the finance industry. Prior to this, Rashmi has worked for IDFC Bank and State Bank of India. She is a postgraduate in Human Resource Management from Management Development Institute. Her specialties include- Compensation & Rewards, Learning & Development Strategy, Manpower Planning, Performance Management System, Change Management and, HR Policies design.

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