The study, Predicament Of Returning Mothers, conducted by Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women Leadership (GCWL), which will be released today, says women who decide to continue working post-marriage are often forced to take into account preferences such as job location, timings, work industry, etc.  Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The study, Predicament Of Returning Mothers, conducted by Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women Leadership (GCWL), which will be released today, says women who decide to continue working post-marriage are often forced to take into account preferences such as job location, timings, work industry, etc. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

What hinders the return of women to work

Women who decide to continue working post-marriage are often forced to take into account preferences such as job location, timings, work industry, etc.

Women returning to work post-pregnancy face both subtle and blatant discrimination. The challenges include indifference at the workplace, lack of family support and societal pressures, new research has found.

The study, Predicament Of Returning Mothers, conducted by Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women Leadership (GCWL), which will be released today, says women who decide to continue working post-marriage are often forced to take into account preferences such as job location, timings, work industry, etc.

Harpreet Kaur, director, GCWL, says the Indian workplace is skewed against women, and while there are few entry points for them, the exit gates are many—pregnancy, childbirth, childcare, elderly care, lack of family support, and an unsupportive work environment. Citing the findings of reports from the International Labour Organization, the National Sample Survey Office etc., Harpreet Kaur highlights that while 27% of women in the Indian workforce join work, about 48% drop out within four months of returning from maternity leave, 50% drop out mid-career before the age of 30 for childcare. Only 16% of senior leadership roles are held by women. “If these exit gates remain open, achieving the global goal of 50:50 of gender equality by 2030 will be challenging," she argues.

The research surveyed women from Delhi and Bengaluru, between the ages 25-35. It included a mix of mothers with one or more than one child, those living in nuclear and joint families, and those from higher, middle and lower management levels. The women were from the private, not-for-profit, and media and communications sectors.

Mothers were divided into three cohorts: currently pregnant, women who have dropped out, and women who returned to work but are facing challenges. The study found challenges that were common to all cohorts, and manifested at four levels: individual, family, workplace, and social norms.

Bhavani Rao, Unesco chair (India) in women’s empowerment and gender equality, says women face discrimination at all stages. She says there is always a greater reluctance among companies, especially tier 2 and tier 3 cities, to hire young women: They are apprehensive of both marriage and pregnancy. “Also, it is not just the policy; where is the support system for women to look after her child?" she says.

Malathi Lakshmikumaran, director and practice head, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan (L&S) Attorneys, says the absence of family support makes re-entry into the workforce post-pregnancy difficult. “The problem I find in general is that if women take an absolute break, it is very difficult for them to come back. They have their peers up the ladder, and have missed something during the period, and that is a critical factor," she adds.

From the employer’s perspective, the study found that on an overall level, managers of all three sectors recognized the challenges of returning to work after pregnancy. “They validated that childcare and maternity are the key exit gates for women. They also agreed that demotions of returning mothers often lead to resignations," the study says.

Lakshmikumaran, however, says that some women can be highly motivated, and take on the stress, both from the family and the workplace. “It is not appropriate to bracket the experience of all women together," she adds.

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