Foodtech giant Zomato recently rolled out a new parental leave policy where not just women but men too will get 26 weeks of paid parental leave. While 26 weeks of maternity leave is mandated by the law (Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961) across organisations in India, no such provision was there for men. Zomato is the first company to offer such a long period for paternal leave to new fathers.
But is the plan feasible? A 26-week-long absence for men and women alike might not garner a positive attitude from several companies. There have been numerous instances in various companies in India where women have been dropped out of crucial assignments or made to join a comparatively junior position when they joined after a break. When the Maternity Benefit Act was amended in 2017 to increase the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks some companies said that they might have to make a conscious decision to hire less female employees. Several reports have stated that various organisations in the aviation, legal and the entertainment sector make their female employees sign documents clearly mentioning that they will not get pregnant while their contract is valid. This is done typically to ensure minimum disruption in business. With a 26-week-long leave, men in the same companies could also be asked to sign such bonds.
READ FULL REPORT| Zomato introduces 26 weeks paid parental leave to all employees
"Gandhi said – 'be the change you wish to see in the world'. Which is why we have made some changes to our parental leave policies today. For women across the globe (we have teams in 13 countries as we speak), we will be offering 26 weeks paid leave or will follow the government mandated policy, whichever is more. We will be offering exactly the same benefits to men as well. There won’t be even an iota of difference in parental leave policy for men and women at Zomato going forward," Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal said in a blog post on Tuesday. Zomato's parental policy also applies to non-birthing parents, and in cases of surrogacy, adoption, and same-sex partners.
Deepinder feels that one of the major reasons behind having fewer women leaders in our country can be attributed to the lack of universal paid parental leave. "Currently, it is hard for women to lead a healthy family life and focus on their careers, leading to a lot of women leaving their jobs or putting their careers on the back burner. This results in a pressing lack of diversity across all levels of the organisation and needs to be solved proactively. While we have been lucky to attract and nurture some of the strongest female leaders I have ever met, it has been incredibly hard to find women leaders out there at senior levels. Majority of the senior positions in the world are currently filled by men – and even if an organisation wants to focus on gender balance in the senior ranks within, it is almost impossible to do that because of the supply bias. According to me, a lot of that imbalance at the top stems from an unequal leave policy for men and women when they welcome their children to this world," states the founder.
Finally, Deepinder hopes and prays that governments across the world also take up this issue and institutionalise paid parental leave. While the idea of providing long paternity leaves to new fathers sounds extremely noble, only time can tell if this policy will be sustainable in a country like ours.