Earlier this week, during the usual bedtime story chat one evening, a little voice made a comment of the more unusual sort : “But Daddy, Mummy would have to become a boss first.”
Why, you may ask, do you hear this at bedtime? Well, with a father who is very close to his children, always full of good humour, energy and good ideas to do things we all enjoy together as a family, the discussion came up what it would be like if Daddy one day took time off to be at home full time. To pick up and drop off the children, help them with the homework, and cook dinner – which is part of what I do during my current sabbatical.
After having explained to this wonderful little person why you do not have to be a boss to support your entire family on your own, we said good night, turned off the lights, and sat down together for a parent discussion in the living room. No, I will not describe the details of that discussion here.
I will however try to summarise a few points that this bedtime comment should make us all think about. Then, you will also see why this reasoning is actually diametrically wrong, even though many both older and presumably wiser people might have reacted the same way:
First – Supporting partners. From Sheryl Sandberg*, the COO of Facebook, to Torborg Chetkovich**, VP and GM of Swedavia, women in prominent positions say that if you want to have a “get somewhere” as a woman, you need to have a supportive partner. In the UN, the He For She campaign kicked off last year encouraging men to stand up for women. The project has gained enormous support, and today nobody contests this principle. Still, the traditional supporting female partner remains the rule for many couples.
Second – Taking that year off. It is OK for a guy to take a year off to sail around the world (with or without his family), or try to set up his own business. It is much less so if he “just” wants to take time off to be with his family. Again, when you look at it from the other side, the fact that a woman might want to take time off for her family is never questioned.
However, this point may be shifting. In the Scandinavian countries fathers are already a normal part of the scenery at cafés and in parks (as well as golf courses) taking care of their children during their “paternity leave” (click here to see a wonderful series of pictures of this). South of Denmark however, things are not as easy.
Men don’t want to, because it’s not a guy’s thing to do, they cannot, because their leave is not covered by parental leave benefits, or don’t dare to, because their colleagues and bosses will frown, take paternity leave for any extended periods of time. Therefore, I was both surprised and extremely happy, that the French association Mercredi C Papa (@), made the headlines in most French newspapers this week, including in the business review Challenges, after having been received at the French ministry for health and women’s rights earlier this week. (Why these two subjects are under the same ministry, and why the women’s rights are not referred to as general “equality”, is a mystery to me.)
The two points can’t be separated. Without supporting partners, less women are likely to reach the top. And if there are no clearly expressed rights or incentives for (male) partners to engage in family life to the same extent as women, there are bound to be less opportunities for women at the workplace (unless they have nannies or access to an extensive day care system, but for that even more money –private or public – is needed, if they are not Superwomen). As Sophie Jaunel (@lentremetteur) laconically pointed out on Twitter: “Aidons les hommes qui aident les femmes qui aident les hommes ..” (Let’s help the men who help the women who help the men)
Getting tangible as well as moral support both for Daddy and Mummy (as general personalities) on these two points is crucial.
So, if Daddy wants to stay at home with the kids, Mummy shouldn’t have to become a boss first. To start with, the whole outlook on what Daddy can do and cannot do has to change. Because otherwise Daddy can’t stay home at all, to increase the possibilities for Mummy to become a boss. If that is what she wants.
*Sheryl Sandberg talks about this in her book Lean In
**Torborg talks about this in an interview in the Swedish book “Bortom Glastaket” (“Beyond the Glass Ceiling) by Lena Gustafsson and Ulrika Sedell