Motherhood is a transformative journey, and who can tell us better about it than Priyanka, a new mom at Fi. As someone who’s returned recently from her maternity break, she’s navigating through all that has changed since she took the leap.
“Things move so quickly when you’re a new mother. Your priorities shuffle overnight - you have a new responsibility, probably the biggest responsibility you’ll ever have. Figuring out where your career is going in the middle of it all is extremely anxiety inducing…to say the least”, expressed Priyanka, a new mom at Fi.
Parental leave policies have been hot discussion topics over the last decade. Tap into any fourth wave feminist group discussion and you’ll know exactly why inclusive parental leaves are important. It’s not too long ago that glaring discrepancies between male and female coworkers were pointed out. Time and again women have expressed how they’ve been rejected from roles they were fit for because of their inclinations to start a family. Now is about as good as any time to have a discussion about why workplaces are hesitant of hiring/accommodating new mothers.
New mothers have a lot on their plates - apart from postpartum depression and anxiety, they’re now completely responsible for the healthy life of their child. From their bodies to their routines, everything changes drastically, and quite permanently. There’s also an everlasting worry over how this phase can impact their careers. Studies show 70% of women feel anxious taking a maternity career break.
“It really doesn’t hit you when you’re on your maternity break, but the day you return to work, you see how it’s all changed. A company with 20 people now has 200 people - how do you not feel anxious? Things are similar, but not quite the same. Work moves super quick, especially in a startup. It’s all very overwhelming.”
“My return certainly wasn’t a smooth one mentally and emotionally. I was swamped with self doubt and questions about how I can cope with these harsh changes. My emotions ranged from feeling anxiety over how my break has impacted my career growth and feeling jittery over how my baby is doing, now that I’m not around” adds Priyanka.
In 2022 it’s a safe assumption that our workspaces are giving adequate support to new parents and maternity breaks don’t stop career growth. But studies done in 2018 and 2020 show that Indian companies have reduced hiring young women to avoid getting into maternity leave obligations. In addition, new mothers or pregnant women are usually seen as less assertive, less decisive, and less committed to the job than non-mothers.
This brings us to the perennial question that lies ahead - Why does a new mother have to prove her commitment to the job?
“The fact is quite simple - once you’re a new mom, work is secondary. You can’t possibly place anything higher than the new life under your care. The only way to go about this is hoping that the people around you understand that this responsibility tops any other task. There’s no way you can manage and prioritize things the way you did before your maternity” she adds.
Understanding that a new mom doesn’t need to prove her commitment to work is a nuance not many workplaces understand. It might never be said outright but there’s usually a shadow cast overhead, expecting them to work twice as hard to make up for the months they’ve missed. Many mums also speak about the heavy guilt they feel when they can’t contribute to team growth or when their hiatus causes internal pressures on their team.
In the case of new mothers, constant reassurance, encouragement, and time go a long way. “The ramp back helped a whole lot. At Fi, there’s a ramp back policy that allows new mothers to work at 50% capacity for their first month back from maternity break. This is followed by two months of working at 75% capacity. Not to mention, there’s always flexibility. This really helped me to figure out how I’m going to manage work and being a new mum. I’m not going to lie, it has been quite difficult, but when you know you have a supportive environment at work , it eases things just enough.”
“I was stressed over all these transitions and kept going into loops of anxiety, but luckily I had Sumit around to reassure me when I needed it. I had my team who understood that I might not always be available, and Fi overall reminded me that there’s no expectation or pressure I should succumb to in my initial months back.”
Ramp backs are proving to be a great way to accommodate new mothers as they reorganize their lives after maternity breaks. Out of the many things you can do to make new moms feel comfortable at work, some popular basics many moms suggest are - Having rooms for pumping/breastfeeding, ramp backs instead of starting full time immediately, supportive colleagues, and flexibility in the first 2-3 years of being a parent.
Apart from this, many new moms wished paternity leaves were increased for their partners. Not only would it help them share responsibility for their child, but could also in some ways, decrease the disparity between male and female colleagues. Having more paternity leaves might reduce the bias many recruiters hold while hiring female talent, which goes a long way in creating equality at work.
“The one thing I want to tell to any new mom getting back on her grind is this - Don’t bake any thoughts in your head. Speak to your team, speak to your managers. Get things off your chest before you convince yourself that you aren’t good enough”, added Priyanka as an ending note.
Fi currently has a Primary and Secondary caregiver policy for new parents. The policy doesn’t restrict to maternal or paternal figures as primary or secondary caregivers keeping in mind single parents, a parent/parents who adopt, and parents from the LGBTQIA+ community. Primary caregivers are given 6 months of parental leave, followed by 3 months of ramp back. Secondary caregivers get around 4 weeks of parental leave which is used at discretion. From hiring an expecting mother and a new dad, to ensuring maternity and career growth goes smoothly, Fi aims to ensure equality at all levels.