Sonica, I have a problem she said… I have an employee who was on maternity leave for almost half the year. She has not done more than half the things she was supposed to do. How do I rate her on her performance? This was my old coachee working in a well-known durables organisation.

But, the things she did, did she do them well? I asked.
Yes, she exceeded them. If those were her only KRAs, it would be the top rating. But the things she couldn’t do, there were others who pitched for the departments KRAs and they also will need recognition. I need to fit people in the bell curve and who do I put where?
If there were no constraints what would you do, I asked? …

This conundrum is faced by most managers whose female employees go on maternity leave. Choices made here are critical. The impact is lasting on the individual, the team and the organisation.

This never ending loop is due to inevitable conflicts between the personal and professional life stages of an employee, and a lack of understanding and sensitivity around life stages. It’s not just about early stages of marriage or maternity, the conflict comes up when a partner/spouse needs to relocate, class X and XII exams, parental illness etc. The social conditioning of over thousands of years usually rests most of these responsibilities on the shoulders of women, and therein lies the issue.

For the individual, the way an organisation treats her, at such crucial moments and life stages, would have a strong impact on her long term view on the organisation and continuity. If not handled consistently, for the team, there can be potential disgruntlement, wink-wink nod-nod banter on ‘wish we were diversity’ from male colleagues. And the organisation puts its culture on risk with the decisions made at these points of time.

The result is an incorrect diversity ratio, reluctance about hiring women employees, forced diversity hiring decisions and unspoken elements in the interpersonal relationship amongst members across the organization.

Yet, many organisations don’t recognize this issue and don’t deal with it systemically.

What is needed is a wholistic approach, encompassing policies and processes, that enable individuals to navigate through life stages, without having to compromise on professional goals and aspirations.

These then need to be communicated in a tone that is well received across both genders. When populated with the buy-in and alignment of senior leaders and managers it slowly becomes a part of the ‘ethos’ of the organisation. It enables all managers to take calls that help build an inclusive culture and associates understand, appreciate and develop a sense of responsibility and respect towards the proactivity.

A woman’s career need not devolve into a forced choice of “Career vs personal life”. A systemic approach can help minimise the impact of life stages on careers.
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Author: Sonica Aron