Vodafone: Mum’s the word

In the matter of working mothers, Vodafone is far from keeping mum. The telecommunications giant is one of the few organisations in the world to define a mandatory minimum maternity benefits standard. JPS Choudhary, Regional HR Head, Vodafone, shares his thoughts on the policy

Far from being an expense, global businesses could save up to $19 billion annually through the provision of 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. According to consultancy KPMG, businesses would retain the knowledge and experience of these women with positive consequences for productivity and effectiveness.

KPMG estimated that recruiting and training new employees to replace women who do not stay in the workforce after having a baby costs businesses $47 billion every year. On the other hand, offering women 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, rather than the statutory minimum would cost businesses only an additional $28 billion a year.

Offering mothers a global return-to-work policy equivalent to a four-day week at full pay for their first six months back to work could save working mothers a cumulative $14 billion in childcare for their new babies.

Vodafone has embraced these findings and pioneered a global maternity policy across 30 countries.

By the end of 2015, women working at all levels across Vodafone’s 30 operating companies in Africa, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the US will be offered at least 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, as well as full pay for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work.

Vodafone employees in the US will especially benefit, as the US has no guaranteed maternity rights. Other than the United Nations, very few global organisations – and even fewer multinational corporations – have adopted minimum maternity policies of this kind.

“While a number of Vodafone subsidiaries already offer substantial maternity care terms which will continue as before, the new mandatory minimum global maternity policy will make a significant difference to the lives of thousands of Vodafone women in countries where there is little or no legislative requirement to provide maternity support,” says JPS Choudhary, Regional HR Head, Vodafone.

For all Vodafone women employees globally, a four-day week will enable a further 26,000 days with their new-born babies a year.

“These maternity benefits are intended to give women time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, bond with their babies, and manage the challenges that come with returning to work after maternity leave,” says Choudhary.

Nurturing a mum-friendly policy

Too many talented women leave working life because they face a difficult choice between caring for a new-born baby and maintaining their careers,” says Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao. “Our new mandatory minimum global maternity policy will support over 1,000 female employees every year in countries with little or no statutory maternity care.”

Indeed, Vodafone is addressing an issue that is prevalent across businesses – that many women do not return after maternity leave or find it difficult to return to the workplace after the changes that having a baby will bring.

“Our company wants to attract and retain talented women, and recognises that providing an attractive maternity policy is key,” says Choudhary.

“Maternity policies varied widely across our 30 subsidiaries, so we looked carefully at the retention rates of women returning from maternity leave in each country and then compared this with the benefits on offer,” he explains.

There were some clues to be found in countries such as Italy, where women received quality time with their new-born babies, and were then supported on their return to work.

“At Vodafone Italy, where women are able to work shorter days for their first few months back, but at full pay, most were staying in their jobs,” Choudhary attests. “Hence, we decided to take a similar approach (globally).

“The idea is that this (four-day week) will help them manage their return to work, as well as help with childcare and the cost of it,” says Choudhary.

“Vodafone wants to attract the best talent, as well as retain the best people across its global footprint.”

Teething problems

While there were no significant challenges in implementing the global maternity policy, Choudhary says there is a short-term investment cost involved. But he expects a medium-term gain, with the ability to retain talented women whose knowledge and experience at the company are often not easy to replace.

“Women account for 35% of our employees worldwide, but only 21% of our international senior leadership team. We believe our new maternity policy will play an important role in helping to bridge that gap,” he explained.

“Supporting working mothers at all levels of our organisation will ultimately result in better decisions, a better culture, and a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs.”

Maternity worldwide

Currently, Bulgaria provides 410 days of mandatory paid maternity leave to new mothers, which is the highest worldwide. The UK is next in line with 273 days of mandatory paid maternity leave. Meanwhile, India provides only 84 days of leave, and the US provides none.

Source: IFC/World Bank

 

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In Singapore, a new mother who has recently returned to work is already benefiting from the 30-hour working week at full pay; which provides her more time with her new-born.

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