Time For Paternity Leave In India
The recent government order to extend maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks has been hailed as a progressive step from industry leaders and of course women. Such progressive decisions from the government put India at par with global economies and organisations that believe in retaining a good talent irrespective of the gender. While maternity leave is good news, I think it is time we formalise the contours of paternity leave in India as well. Many countries like UK, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, France and Spain give paid paternity leaves ranging from 10 days to 3 months, which can further be extended as unpaid leave. The logic is simple, a father is as attached to his child as the mother is, and raising a child is a duty fulfilled by both the parents.
The Nordic welfare states are leaders in this regard – Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway were among the pioneers for paternity leave. Sweden has this year, in fact, planned to increase paternity leave to a third month, which accompanies its generous 16 months parental leave policy which can be taken by either parent.
In India, maternity leave as a concept has been part of HR policies in every company, however paternity leave is unheard of even today. Some of new age companies in IT and ITES and BFSI like Syntel and Kotak Mahindra Bank give two weeks paternity leave to fathers. At Core Integra, we have recently implemented this policy too. I believe it is time that paternity leaves are formalised in India too. HR heads of large companies should lead by example. Some of the blue chip companies where paternity leave is not, the policy should include it.
Making paternity leave mandatory offers several economic and social benefits. Sweden, for instance, has planned the increase in paternity leave with an aim to increasing gender equality. Making paternity leave mandatory enables women, mothers, to return to work faster and be more productive without having to worry about childcare. This also promotes the role of fathers in childbearing and childcare, enabling behavioural changes socially in cultures. It is also widely observed that women who opt for the full term of maternity leave often return to work to a decreased share of profile responsibilities or at a lower pay. Making paternity leave mandatory could promote the culture of not penalising women for maternity leave, but also not discriminating against women during recruitments.
It would be important to highlight here, that paternity leave would have to be made mandatory to avoid the imbalance in recruitment, back-to-work, and payscale experiences for women. In a society such as India, where we still view childcare as primarily a mother’s duty, fathers may not be incentivised to take the offered paternity leave. In fact, even in some Europe and Asia-Pacific countries, policies have had to be termed as parental leave to increase the balance in parenting roles and work culture gender equality. Parental leave policies that adopt a gender-neutral approach and incentivise equal sharing of leave among both parents could encourage more fathers to take paternity leave. This model has been successful in Germany, and also has good foundation for India as well. The Nordic States’ ‘Use it or Lose it’ policy may also incentivise fathers in India to take paternity leave as otherwise both parents would lose a month of designated parental leave.
Indirectly, mandatory paternity leave could also be used to promote income equality between genders. As men predominantly continue to draw higher salaries, most families may prefer the woman to take leave instead. However, paternity leave policies could also force companies to realise the contribution by women to their top lines and hence increase pay equality between the two genders.
To prevent abuse of such leave, companies could decide on a time limit within which such leave should be taken and also, perhaps, cap the pay earned during this period.
Given that India has an increasing number of nuclear families nowadays, mandatory paternity leave could also promote better families, which make for better employees and better child development. I also think that we now have a newer generation of fathers in the country who are more involved with their wives and newborns, and hence companies need to be sensitive enough towards such culture.
As more millennials enter the workforce, India should not be undermined in the global trends towards gender parity. Companies, and hence the country, have an opportunity here to lead the developing word on policies related to parental leave.
This article is contributed by Prasanna Soparkar