Last night, I jumped when I saw this week’s headlines in the Economist. “A Nordic mystery – In the world’s most female-friendly workplaces, executive suites are still male-dominated”. Finally someone writes what it seems nobody talks about, or knows outside of Scandinavia. In spite of a lot of talking about equal opportunities and generous parental leave rules, there are still few “Viking women” at the top in the Nordic countries. Thank you.
For some reason, most people seem to think that the Nordic countries must be role models in terms of gender equality at work. It is true that both parents enjoy more or less the same rights to parental leave, at least in Sweden. We are no longer talking about maternity leave only. There is also an enormous flexibility available in terms of working from home through internet connections. Still, if you look at the European Commission’s statistics over women in the boardrooms, France is actually 0.2 percentage points above Sweden in terms of female representation (26.6 vs 26.8 % in 2013). To me, having worked in France but coming from Scandinavia, this came as a big surprise when I saw the figures a few months ago.
In France, women have 16 weeks paid maternity leave and can in addition take out up to three years of unpaid parental leave (and so can the fathers but they rarely do – remind me to do a comparison on the dads’ situation sometime soon, there is interesting and surprising details about that), against a small contribution by the state. And there is not a great network of daycare centres or “day mummies” who can mind your child if you want to get back to work. It is also possible to work part time in France until your child is three years old. This means you remain present at the workplace but you skip, say Wednesdays, to be with your children who have a shorter school day those days.
In Sweden, it is usual for (mostly) women, to take as much as one year of maternity leave with pretty good salary compensation in comparison to France. You also have a guaranteed place at daycare for your child once they it’s one year old.
So, with only these inputs, it definitely seems that the length of the maternity leave does not make a huge difference between the two countries in terms of board representation.
All countries are different. Corporate culture, social systems, women’s and men’s behaviour at work, both as managers and employees, differ. Factors other than maternity leave are therefore bound to affect board representation as well. For example, as I mentioned in an earlier post, in France employers seem to expect women to stop climbing the corporate ladder once they are mothers, while this seems to be less the case in Sweden. Parents in Sweden seem to proud themselves in sharing the child minding (drop offs, pick ups, sick days) and then connect to work at night once the kids are in bed. The Economist mentions that the lengthy absence of women in the Nordic countries might affect them negatively (contrary to Churchill who was off from politics for a long period of time and then did a comeback, although to me that is not the same thing, but I may be wrong).
So, let’s imagine what would happen if for example women in Sweden were to get back to work after 16 weeks rather than one year, would that boost female representation higher up in the ranks?
It would be interesting to find statistics on those women in Nordic countries who have taken shorter maternity leave, and who work in what is supposedly a more “equal” work environment. I’ll dig around, you never know what you might find…