“But she is sure to leave after maternity!”

5 strategies to ensure she returns after maternity

Indian businesses are increasingly championing policies that help in recruiting more women into their workforce. Yet, certain skeptical undercurrents persist, the most common being:

“Will this young female candidate leave after maternity?”

And rightly so! New recruits are expensive to train and onboard. Some studies peg the  total cost of losing an employee anywhere from from tens of thousands of dollars to 1.5-2 times the annual salary.

At Serein we decided to look at the numbers that explain the basis of this skepticism. According to the 2011 census, women constitute 25.51% of the workforce. Only 5% of these women reach higher management and executive positions; the global average for women in 20%.

Do Indian mothers really want to come back after maternity?

A study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of Centre for Talent Innovation, looks at the impact of women’s career interruptions on remuneration and aspiration. The research was extended to India in 2012.

In the report On Ramps and Up Ramps India, 36% of Indian women take a break from work, similar to Germany and U.S. However, Indian women stay out of work for a shorter duration, an average of 11 months compared to 2.7 years in U.S. and 1.9 years in Germany.

Contrary to the common misconception, the study indicates that almost 91% of women who take a break in India want to come back to work. Yet only 58% are able to re-join full time work. Thus our understanding of women’s aspirations needs to be re- assessed.

Money isn’t the only carrot

Although Indian women face smaller salary penalties compared to their counterparts in U.S. and Germany upon re-joining, 72% Indian women do not want to go back to their previous employer.

Business management author, Daniel Pink explains the value of money as a motivator. In his book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Pink suggests that money is an effective motivator only for simple or straight forward tasks. It fails when used for task the are complex or require even rudimentary cognitive reasoning.

“The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to put the worry of money off the table.”

Following which science points to three factors that increase motivation to performance

  • Autonomy- taking initiative and being creative outside one’s role;
  • Mastery- getting better at one’s task
  • Purpose- finding meaning in your role beyond monetary returns.

Considering data and the practical steps that our experts have put together the following practical strategies to strengthen inclusion policies and address attrition after maternity.

Look at the gender statistics of attrition

The underlying fear that the woman will leave stems from our own personal experiences. In a professional set up it is useful to look at larger trends. Right after hiring young women, managers spend time worrying and thinking of options in the event that the woman leaves after maternity. A male employee is as likely to leave for a better job prospect yet the level of worry here is inconsistent.

Personal experience on people matters is useful but data and research are crucial to decide the best areas to invest efforts, time (worry time) and money.

Communicate often

Communication from senior leadership on the business imperative of women returning after maternity is important. Traditional gender roles and socialization have convinced women of their importance in child rearing. Society still falls short of convincing her about the value her participation brings to the economy.

Women employees must be appreciated for the skill they bring to the table and not glorified for the gender ratio they bring to the organization.

Use consistent language

“How do you manage with the baby?”

How often do new fathers get asked this question? Working mothers are forced to encounter guilt ridden questions outside and sometimes inside the workplace.

Sensitization material for managers and teams is useful to help the team avoid these conversations and focus on building support structures for both young fathers and mothers.

Encourage mentorship

Targeted mentorship from female as well as male role models is crucial for a balanced and holistic perspective to the mentee.

Compared to a manager-employee relationship, the fear-free mentor- mentee relationship increases authentic communication on role challenges and performance expectations.  

Experiment with support labs

Mentorship within the organization and across levels can be difficult due to time constraints. Similar to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) that addresses harassment, a useful strategy is to create a support lab. Support labs with internal and external mentors can look at the data on the career trajectory of the individual female employee to help them chalk a detail plan for their transition back into the workplace.

Behaviour studies indicate the innate human need for mastery and purpose. Strategically designing a post maternity plan with the employee on opportunities within the organization establishes a sense of purpose and affiliation towards the organization.


Indian women do want to come back to work. The data supports this view.

The strategies above aim to bridge the gap between women employee’s professional aspirations and the organization’s understanding. Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte rightly refers to people as an “appreciating asset”. Over time employees learn the organization and the systems, they understand product and markets, build relationships with customers and partners. Given the cost of attrition, a smarter strategy is to invest in building a sense of purpose and passion towards the mission of the organization (instead of back up recruits).

At the end of the day, a sense of comfort and nuanced understanding, coupled with loyalty and passion earns better business outcomes.

Chryslynn is a former Gandhi Fellow with her work addressing educational leadership in rural government schools in Rajasthan. Chryslynn graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education. Her work on behavioural economics, leadership, gender sexuality hasled her to understand the nuances of organisational culture and the working of diverse teams. Chryslynn currently heads diversity and inclusion at Serein.