Sree had been working as an insurance underwriter with a reputed bank for last 4 years. In these four years, she had never availed leaves for more than a week or 10 days at a stretch. Even for her wedding, she had taken only 10 days off – 3 days before the wedding and a 5-day honeymoon. It was a decision that Sree and her husband had agreed upon so that both their jobs did not suffer. Sree had been 31 when she got married and the couple knew that the biological clock was ticking. When she conceived within 6 months of the wedding, the couple had been on the top of the world.
Sree worked through her pregnancy to be able to use the entire span of maternity leave post her delivery with her baby. It was a relief that the latest amendments to the Maternity Benefits Act had increased the duration of maternity to 6 months. Sree gave birth to a healthy baby and embarked on a fresh journey as a mother.
Five months later, Sree found her annual appraisal report in her mailbox, something she had been eagerly waiting for. She had worked really hard and by the time she had left for her maternity leave she had achieved 98% of her targets. Realistically she knew she couldn’t expect a 1 or 2 (highest) comparative rank, but a 3 (moderate) would have satisfied her. When she opened her report, she found a ‘4’ – meaning the organisation had found her performance to be just satisfactory enough to not ask her to leave. She could continue with her job, but without any increment. Sree was upset, yet let it go. Probably these are things that come accrued with being a woman.
Towards the end of 6 months, Sree called her boss to request for an extension of her leave (unpaid). The boss was clear in telling her that the team had just been managing without her since she left. He had not been able to sanction long leaves for any of the team members because they were all working hard to fill in for her. The peak time had been extremely hard on the team in her absence. The rant went on for almost 20 minutes. Sree just reacted with one statement, “Sir, I thought I wasn’t that significant for the team.” The manager not realising what Sree was getting to eagerly responded, “No Sree! You are an asset to the team. And the team is eagerly waiting for you to join back.”
Sree took a deep breath and blurted, “Yes sir, that’s why there’s a 4 rank for me in this year’s appraisal. Sir, my daughter needs my attention right now, I’ll call back to discuss my leave at your convenience. Let me know when we can talk again.” And bit her lips as she disconnected the call.
Who’s fault is it?
Is it Sree’s fault for expecting fair treatment? Or is it Sree’s boss’ fault for it does seem that he was exploiting Sree’s situation? I would say it was neither of their faults. It was the system’s fault.
Sree was an easy target. In a culture of comparative ranking where managers have to fight for their team members in a blood bath like scenario, Sree became a scapegoat. Whatever be the reason, she wasn’t there during the peak performance season. It was unfortunate yet practical for the manager to not pursue for a good performance rating for her.
What is unfortunate in cases where girls have to take a break due to weddings or maternity? These are life events which any individual is expected to embark on at some point in time in their life.
Yes, it’s unfortunate that the peak time for career progression and the time when woman’s biological clock begins to tick coincide. Right when a woman begins expecting returns on the hard work she has put in for almost a decade, her biological system tells her to change the route or take a call. She just cannot have the best of both worlds.
It is unfortunate that even in these times when it has been proved that women managers are equally capable or even better than their male counterparts in most roles, organisations do not take into account the fact that it’s only women who can bear children. They do not have an option to be able to pass on this job to their husbands so that their career does not suffer.
Is it too difficult for organisations to design policies that do not discriminate against women for bearing children?
One basic policy mandate that could have saved Sree the embarrassment of a 4 rating after three years of being rated 1 or 2, is that the evaluation period for her could have been restricted to the time period before she went ahead with her maternity leave. A weighted scoring for the performance period can then be compared fairly with the score of other team members.
Organisations may also choose to design their policy to give a standard benefit of situation rating to an expecting employee based on a customised performance metric. The ranking may be decided depending upon her weighted performance for the number of months worked during the appraisal cycle before leaving on the maternity leave.
Organisations need to look at maternity cases in light of the fact that the percentage of total employee population going to be on maternity leave in one performance evaluation cycle is meagre.
Most women in our country feel victimised because they went on maternity leave. How to make the organisational environment fair and friendly for employees joining post-delivery is a matter of a separate discussion altogether. The organisations could at least start with being fair to women for performing with all the sincerity before they went off work to take care of a role that they have been cut-out for by nature.