Swedish Daddies

Swedish Daddies
Case 9.5 Swedish Daddies
years ago, the famous economist paul Samuelson quipped that “ women are just men with less money.” He was referring to the financially dependent posi-tion of women at that time, when they were unlikely to be employed outside the home and, if they were, were likely to earn substantially less than men. That has now changed for the better. Although women have yet to achieve full equity at the highest levels of business, they constitute nearly half the U. S. workforce, and their pay is not so very far behind that of men. Moreover, with the decline of manufacturing and the growing importance of the service sector in today’s economy, brain power matters more than brawn. Here women can compete as well as men, and they have proved their value to employers over and over again. In fact, they now outnum-ber men in professional and managerial positions. And, with women continuing to graduate from college at a higher rate and in greater numbers than men, their future looks bright. 121 But for many women there is one continuing source of frustration. They often feel forced to choose between moth-erhood and a high- powered career. Jobs that offer the hours and flexibility that suit women with family responsibilities tend to pay less, while the most financially rewarding jobs frequently require brutal hours and total commitment to the job. And the higher you go, the rougher it gets. Not only must those who want to fight their way to the top of the corporate world work long, grueling hours, but they are also often expected to gain experience working in different depart-ments and divisions and even in different countries. That tends to rule out women with family commitments. As a result, women with children, especially single mothers, earn less on average than men do while childless women earn almost as much as men. Over the years, some business writers have argued that we should simply accept this fact and that companies should distinguish between the career- primary woman and the career- and- family woman. Those in the first category put their careers first. They remain single or childless or, if they do have children, are satisfied to have others raise them. The automatic association of all women with babies is unfair to these women, argues Felice N. Schwartz, an organizer and advocate for working women. “ The secret to dealing with such women,” she writes, “ is to recognize them early, accept them, and clear artificial barriers from their path to the top.” The majority of women, however, fall into the second cat-egory. They want to pursue genuine careers while participat-ing actively in the rearing of their children. Most of them, Schwartz and others believe, are willing to trade some career growth and compensation for freedom from the constant pressure to work long hours and weekends. By forcing these women to choose between family and career, companies lose a valuable resource and a competitive advantage. Instead, firms must plan for and manage maternity, they must provide the flexibility to help career- and- family women be maximally productive, and they must take an active role in providing family support and in making high- quality, affordable child care available to all women. In other words, companies should provide women with the option of a comfortable, but slower “ mommy track.” Although distinguishing between career- primary women and career- and- family women seems reasonable and humane, there’s rarely any mention of fathers or of shared parental responsibility for raising children. The mommy track idea also takes for granted the existing values, structures, and biases of a corporate world that is still male dominated. As authors Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English write, “ Eventually it is the corporate culture itself that needs to slow down to a human pace . . . [ and end] workloads that are incompatible with family life.” One country that is trying to push things in a new direction is Sweden. Whereas America stands almost alone in the world in not guaranteeing women paid maternity leave, Sweden provides sixteen months paid leave per child, with the costs shared between the employer and the government. However— and this is what is novel— at least two of these months are reserved for fathers. No father is forced to take baby leave, but the leave is nontransferable so it’s “ use it or lose it.” And more and more men are using it. In fact, more than eight in ten Swedish fathers now take advantage of parental leave. And some Swedish politicians are arguing that more months— perhaps, half of them— should be exclusively for fathers. Germany has now followed Sweden’s lead. In 2007 it began guaranteeing fathers two months’ paternity leave. No country, however, has gone further toward parental equity than Iceland. It reserves three months of parental leave for the father and three months for the mother, and allows parents to share an additional three months. In the meantime, the paternity- leave law is helping to redefine masculinity in Sweden. Take game warden Mikael Karlson. A former soldier who owns a snowmobile, two hunt-ing dogs, and five guns, he’s a man’s man. Cradling his two-month- old baby girl in his arms, he says he cannot imagine not taking parental leave. “ Everyone does it.” Not only does his wife agree, but she says that he never looks more attrac-tive to her than “ when he is in the forest with his rifle over his shoulder and the baby on his back.” Some men admit that they were unsure of themselves at first— the cooking, clean-ing, and sleepless nights— but that they adjusted to it and even liked it. One Swedish father calls it a “ life- changing experience.” “ Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” says Bengt Westerberg, who as deputy prime minister helped to bring the law about. “ Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.” “ Now men can have it all— a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” adds Birgitta Ohlsson, another govern-ment minister. “ It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.” Some also think the paternity- leave law is the reason that the divorce rate in Sweden has declined in recent years. There are, however, stories of companies’ discouraging men from taking long baby leaves, and managers admit that parental leave can be disruptive. Still, by and large Swedish business has adapted, and many companies find that a family-friendly work environment helps them attract talented employees. “ Graduates used to look for big paychecks,” says one human resources manager. “ Now they want work- life balance.”
Discussion Questions
1. If you have, or plan to have, children, what sort of balance do you seek between career and family life? Do you believe that the mindset of corporate America is conducive to the type of work- and- family arrangement that would suit you?
2. Should the United States require companies to provide paid maternity leave? Should it assist them to do so? What about paternity leave?
3. Do companies already have a mommy track, whether they call it that or not? Is the idea a good one? Is it somehow discriminatory against women? Against men?
4. Should men be more actively involved in childrearing? If not, why not? If so, what steps, if any, should either busi-ness or society take to encourage this?
5. Should special organizational arrangements be made for workers who wish to combine career and child raising? If so, identify the steps that companies can take to accom-modate parental needs more effectively.
6. Does a firm have an obligation to give employees the flexibility to work out the particular balance of career and family that is right for them? Or does this go beyond the social responsibilities of business?
7. Can paid maternity or paternity leave make sense from a business point of view, even if it is not subsidized by the government?