Pregnant woman
Only eight of the 195 nations in the world do not provide paid maternity and paternity leave. Helena Lopes/Pexels

India has one of the lowest rates of working adult women globally, with less than 25 per cent of the female population listed as employed. To draw and keep female employees, international financial businesses are expanding their maternity benefits across India to include perks rarely found elsewhere - in fact, India's maternity benefits surpass those in the United States, making India a more supportive environment for working mothers.

Maternity Leave Benefits in India vs the US

According to the World Bank's Gender Data Portal, India boasts some of the strictest minimum maternity leave requirements among the Group of 20 economies, with a minimum of 26 weeks of paid leave. Businesses with more than 50 workers must also provide a creche or nursery, either on-site or nearby. The Indian government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has introduced flexible working hours to encourage more women to join the workforce. Additionally, a career training programme launched in 2021 aims to boost the number of female workers.

In stark contrast, the US is the only developed nation without a national guarantee of paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave. According to Hire with Near, a recruitment firm, only eight of the world's 195 nations do not provide paid maternity and paternity leave, with the US being one of them. The other nations in this group, including Tonga and Papua New Guinea, are regarded as having low to middling incomes, highlighting the discrepancy given the US's wealth.

Expanded Benefits by Financial Institutions in India

According to Bloomberg, HSBC Holdings Plc covers the cost of bankers' nannies for up to six years to support working mothers. On the other hand, when a new mother's maternity leave expires, Morgan Stanley reimburses the costs of taxi rides, and Citigroup Inc. permits new mothers to work from home for an additional year. These benefits and more offer significant support, enabling mothers to balance their professional and personal lives more effectively:

  1. Extended Maternity Leave: Indian branches of HSBC and Citi offer extended paid maternity leave, exceeding the mandatory requirements. This extension allows mothers ample time to recuperate and bond with their newborns without the rush to return to work.
  2. Nanny Services: Recognising the challenges associated with securing reliable childcare, these banks provide access to nanny services. This support ensures that children are well cared for, giving mothers peace of mind as they resume their professional duties.
  3. Taxi Rides: To facilitate safe and comfortable commutes, expecting and new mothers are provided with taxi rides to and from the office. This initiative not only ensures their safety but also reduces the physical strain of daily commuting.
  4. Work-from-Home Options: Flexible work arrangements, including the ability to work from home, are now more readily available. This flexibility is crucial for mothers, helping them balance their work and personal lives effectively.

Global Comparison of Maternity Leave

India's maternity benefits are also impressive compared to other countries with extensive leave policies. For instance:

• Bulgaria offers 58.6 weeks
• Greece offers 43 weeks
• The United Kingdom offers 39 weeks
• Slovakia offers 34 weeks
• Croatia offers 30 weeks
• Chile offers 30 weeks
• Czech Republic offers 28 weeks
• Ireland offers 26 weeks
• Hungary offers 24 weeks
• New Zealand offers 22 weeks

While these countries lead in duration, India's comprehensive support structure, including childcare and commuting benefits, sets it apart.

Efforts by US Financial Institutions

In the US, companies have some latitude in defining their parental leave policies. For example, Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. provide all new parents 16 weeks of paid leave, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. offers 20 weeks. Citigroup Inc. has recently increased its parental leave to 16 weeks for all new US and Puerto Rico parents, with an additional eight weeks for birth parents, totalling 24 weeks.

Despite these efforts, the US still lags behind India in providing holistic support to working mothers. The absence of a national paid leave policy means that benefits can vary widely between employers, leaving many parents without adequate support.

The expanded maternity benefits introduced by HSBC and Citi in India highlight a progressive approach to employee well-being. These comprehensive benefits not only support Indian mothers in balancing their careers and family life but also set a benchmark that surpasses the relatively modest improvements in the US. As Aditya Mittal, the chief human resources officer of Citi India & South Asia, aptly stated, "We will never become a developed country without women's participation."