The increasing trend of offering extended maternity and infant-care leave has been welcomed by women’s rights groups and recruiters, who say such family friendly policies are a great way to retain talent.
Over the past few months, organisations across Malaysia and Singapore have been unveiling new benefits for working mothers. Malaysia's largest bank, Maybank Berhad, now offers its staff up to one year of leave. This move is seen as a first of its kind policy for a Southeast Asian employer.
Maybank stated it would offer the extension by allowing an employee to apply for an additional leave period of three months with half-pay, and a further six months with no pay.
Technology firm DiGi Telecommunications Berhad also rolled out extended maternity leave of six months. Its Malaysian office said the policy was part of their talent attraction and retention programme.
Singapore Council of Women's Organisation president Dr June Goh said family friendly policies would definitely improve the lives of women by giving them added job security, more bonding time with their infants, and encouraging breast-feeding.
In Singapore, Standard Chartered Bank recently announced a five-month paid maternity and adoption leave, allowing new adoptive mothers to benefit as well.
“Policies such as these could ensure more women stay in the workforce after starting families and hopefully reduce the lower than ideal population replacement rates,” added Goh.
She added that the leave policies were in line with the government policy for public servants.
In a pilot scheme, starting in July for three years, a couple with one spouse in the public sector would have up to 26 weeks of parental leave between them, up from 22 weeks. If both spouses work in the public sector, they can jointly take as long as 30 weeks in total.
Michael Page Malaysia director May Wah Chan said offering this kind of flexibility would increase job commitment among women, because they know their skills and talent are appreciated.
“We have met with many female candidates who chose to resign from work to take the extended maternity leave they needed as they were unable to get that flexibility with their employers,” said Chan.
May added that if employers grant extended maternity leave, this would increase retention, because it gives working mothers more confidence and security to be back at work after having the time to manage their personal wellbeing, mental readiness and family commitments.
Association of Women for Action and Research's head of advocacy and research Jolene Tan said she hoped this extension spurs other organisations to move in the same direction.
“Longer parental leave has proven to be good for staff retention and morale. Unfortunately, right now, many women still find it difficult to return to work after a relatively short maternity leave,” she said.
Tan said there should also be measures to increase men's contribution to domestic and care work, because – regardless of flexible working arrangements – women would continue to be disadvantaged as long as it is assumed domestic and care work "belongs" to them by virtue of gender.
“This is vital in the Singapore context where 41 per cent of women outside the labour force have cited family responsibilities as their main reason for not participating,” said Tan.
Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) said in a statement that extended leave for mothers was a positive step, which aimed to achieve gender balance at the workplace and was in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
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