Empowering parental leave

deloitteDavid Cruickshank, global chairman of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Parental leave has come a long way since my daughters were born. Once seen as a consideration just for mothers, it’s starting to receive a fresh look and gain wider appreciation as a critical aspect of building a talented, productive workforce.

Today, parental leave, in some form, is available in most countries, but as a recent Deloitte survey in the US shows, availability doesn’t always equal usage. A disparity still exists between the perception of parental leave as a benefit and the sensitivity of being judged, or falling behind, by taking advantage of it.

While this imbalance persists, support for parental leave is gaining a louder voice as more men join the chorus in greater numbers by urging employers to strengthen parental leave policies and fathers make the case that it’s the best choice for both their family and place of work. It’s not a coincidence anymore that what happens to be good for families also happens to be good for business in terms of attracting and retaining satisfied, productive, focused employees. As a result, c-suites have started to pay more attention and make changes to their own company policies.

Results from a recent Deloitte survey in the US offer a compelling glimpse into where the parental leave discussion is heading and reinforces the concerns that still remain. Overall, the respondents said that they wanted more parental leave, but they remained fearful, especially among men, that taking parental leave will be a step backwards in their career.

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The survey found that fewer than half of the respondents felt their company fostered an environment in which men are comfortable taking parental leave. In fact, 57 percent of men felt that exercising their parental leave right would be perceived as a lack of commitment to their jobs. This fear appears to extend well beyond the US too. In Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland, where all parental leave is transferable, only about three percent of dads use it.

Businesses in many countries are trying to change this mindset by using tactics to encourage paternal leave. These include transferable leave, making paternal leave compulsory, financial bonuses and lengthier paid time off. While these incentives are having an impact, they’re just one part of the solution. Changing minds requires transforming the culture in which parental leave – for both mothers and fathers – is seen as a smart decision for businesses, employees, and the communities in which they live and work.

The survey found that one in three respondents want to have more than three months of paid leave. It also found that 50 percent said that they would rather have more parental leave than a pay raise, and some said that a stronger parental leave policy was more important than having a better boss, a better title or a shorter commute.

However, offering more parental leave alone isn’t effective if it is not being used. The corporate culture around parental leave has to transform in order to attract, retain, and advance the workforce of the future. This includes more compassion and responsiveness so employees feel empowered to succeed.

Across the Deloitte network, we are giving our people the support and flexibility to make daily choices that empower them to be energised, confident and aware. In the UK, the government allows mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to utilise the Shared Parental Leave (SPL) program, to be taken up to a year after a child is born or adopted. This policy provides eligible parents with the option to share a period of their maternity or adoption leave with their partner, including sharing statutory pay.

Deloitte in the UK goes further to offer its people enhanced Shared Parental Leave. This matches the UK firm’s current level of enhanced maternity and adoption pay, which allows 16 weeks at full pay, followed by 10 weeks at half pay, so that parents can choose how to make their leave work for their own families. Our UK business also offers a Working Parents Transitions Program for all parents to help them plan and manage the transition to parenthood as they juggle the challenges of work and their responsibilities at home.

Deloitte in the US expanded its parental leave policy to a broader family leave policy. This new policy offers 16 weeks of paid leave to anyone – male or female – who has a need, whether that need is the arrival of a new child, caring for a spouse or domestic partner, or dealing with the health of ageing parents. This effort is part of the Deloitte network’s inclusive culture that recognises that we know the individuals across our multigenerational workforce have different sets of demands and needs outside of work that emerge at different stages in their lives.

Looking ahead, this conversation will continue to develop as more Millennials become parents and their baby boomer parents continue to age. Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Majority report in the US demonstrates that work/life balance and flexible work arrangements will be necessary for businesses to retain their Millennial employees. One way companies could differentiate themselves in the attraction and retention of Millennials is by committing to a comprehensive paternal leave policy that is embedded in a cultural change towards more flexibility.

While the parental leave survey discussed in this piece is specific to the United States, it’s reflective of a broader global conversation taking place around a more compassionate, flexible workplace that provides an environment for employees to feel empowered to prioritise their lives at work and at home.

Useful links

What fathers can do for gender equality, Monika Queisser, Willem Adema and Chris Clarke, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

OECD Gender Portal

OECD work on families and children

OECD work on social policies and data

OECD work on gender and development

Let’s read them a story! Helping your children succeed in school

“Reading is neither a mother’s nor a father’s job; it should be a joy to both”

Today’s post is from Anne-Lise Prigent, the editor in charge of education publications at OECD Publishing

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” said Mark Twain. Well, watching a film like Race to Nowhere makes you think Twain was right. The film describes schools miserably unable to prepare young Americans to become “healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens”.

What went wrong? The schools portrayed are obsessed by success, but ironically they fail students. The pressure is such that the students’ only aim is to pass exams. Students are caught aboard a runaway train and use any means available to cope with the madness of the system. These include cheating, taking stimulants and tranquilisers, or even inflicting harm upon themselves. They don’t learn but merely memorize, regurgitate and forget. A student sighed with relief after her final exam: “Phew… I’ll never have to speak French again!”.

The audience with whom I saw this documentary at the American University of Paris was shocked. These parents, teachers and school leaders felt that the film mirrored their own experience, in France and elsewhere. Too much stress, not enough learning. Although the film dealt with the upper 2% of the American education system (so-called “elite schools”), the uneasiness it captured was apparently felt by many.

Shouldn’t education help us live and work in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world? The film’s drained (rather than trained) students finally arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. Some have to take remedial classes when they enter college. A lawyer observed that the recent interns and new employees in her firm did not try to understand what the issues were and how to tackle them. Their only question was: “How many paragraphs should I write?”.

This is hardly the 21st century skill set education is supposed to deliver: creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration. Through creativity (which comes first), we hope to find brand new ways of addressing economic, societal and personal problems. Schools should nurture creativity and innovation – and not just in the Arts. However, according to Ken Robinson: “our approaches to education are stifling some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st century – the powers of creative thinking”.

How schools can adapt to the 21st century is a crucial and complex issue, dealt with in an outstanding OECD publication: Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century. However, education does not only happen in the classroom. It starts – and continues – at home.

How can parents help their children succeed in school? How can they best help them acquire 21st century skills? Let’s Read them a Story: The Parent Factor in Education is based on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results and it shows that our involvement as parents is essential for children throughout their school years and beyond.

This attractive little book (which features exquisite New Yorker cartoons) will reassure parents: it is never too early and never too late to get involved in your children’s education. And it does not take a PhD to help your children succeed. Simple things go a long way, genuine interest is all it takes (quality rather than quantity). Show them you care, get involved!

First, let’s read them a story! Children who were read to when very young are better readers at fifteen (even compared to children with similar socio-economic backgrounds). As children enter primary school, some activities will help them become better (and happier) readers: activities that emphasize the value of reading and using words in context (e.g. reading books, talking about what mum/dad has done) rather than activities that treat words and letters as isolated units (e.g. playing with alphabet toys). Set an example by reading yourself – be it novels, newspapers or magazines. Volunteer for extra-curricular activities or at the library. And… eat meals with your children around a table.

Students are never too old to benefit from your engagement as a parent. “Fifteen-year-olds whose parents show an active interest in their lives and thoughts are more proficient in reading.” Discuss how well your children are doing at school or just spend time talking with them. Engage in debates about current affairs, books, films, etc. PISA data shows that students whose parents discuss social and political issues with them perform better than students whose parents do not. This also helps raise their awareness of effective learning strategies, e.g. how to summarise information. Last but not least, these discussions encourage students to develop informed opinions and become critical thinkers.

Children whose parents are involved in their education in these ways tend to be “more receptive to language”. They are also more likely to plan, set goals, initiate and follow-through in their projects. Having acquired these skills, they have learned something essential: how to learn – at school and well beyond.

Learning how to learn is key, and so is the joy that goes with it. What was striking in Race to Nowhere was the students’ utter absence of enjoyment. Don’t children need to play, explore and discover? The great pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott believed that playing serves as the basis for creativity and the discovery of the self and was the key to emotional and psychological well-being. He described all human culture (not only the arts, but also politics, economics, philosophy and culture) as highly developed forms of playing. Yet he warned: playing cannot happen when a person feels acute pressure to perform and it cannot involve too much anxiety. Feeling alive and real in one’s mind and body is what allows people to be close to others and creative. Let’s not lose this on the way as we rush ahead regardless.

Useful links

Read Marilyn Achiron’s article on “The Parent Factor in Education” at the OECD educationtoday blog

On 25th  September, the American Library in Paris is organizing an evening with Francesca Borgonovi of the OECD PISA programme and author and journalist Peter Gumbel whose latest book On achève bien les écoliers (“They shoot schoolkids, don’t they?”) looks at the French education system.