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.


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

More work? More play? What’s really best for high school students?

Learning to smoke, and other useful skills
Learning to smoke, and other useful skills

Laura Capponi, student at the Lycée EIB Etoile, Paris, France

I am a student in a French high school, where I have always studied. The French educational system is different to many other countries because of the length of the day, which typically runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a half day on Wednesday. Students do not usually attend school on Saturday or Sunday. In comparison, school hours are usually from 7.30am to 2pm or 2.30pm in the United States, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Australia or from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. in Finland.

I chose to compare France and the United States as my American friend, living there, could describe her schedule from the students’ point of view.

Students of my age, 14/15 years old, would attend school an average of 8 hours (including lunch) in France with a required 1048 hours of compulsory instruction per year, compared to a 14/15-year-old American student who would attend school an average of 6 hours a day for approximately the same number of hours per year. The main difference between these two systems is the number of hours per day and the amount of holidays. This leaves American students more leisure time and therefore more time to develop other interests such as art, sport or other extracurricular activities. On the other hand, French students spend most of their day in school, leaving little time for anything else.

How do these countries rank in the PISA report by the OECD, which has tested high-school students since 2000, and what does this say about the different systems? Studies show that developing extracurricular interests is beneficial to a child’s education. However France, where students typically spend a lot more time in school, ranks ahead of the United States by 14 points. The top country in this ranking is China. A high-school day in China often starts as early as 7am and ends a 5pm or later. According to a Chinese Youth and Children Research Center (CYCRC) survey, the majority of Chinese students spend more time at school than their parents do at work and have little to no time at all to play or to enjoy any extracurricular activities, their time being taken up by homework. This system is more similar to the French one, which would suggest that spending more time in school during the day is more adapted to the students.

However, the survey also shows that Chinese children do not enjoy as much playtime as they would like. They do not meet the requirement of 9 hours of sleep, and only 4 in 10 of the survey’s participants claim they have any friends to play with.

Study pressure has led to an increase in stress, psychological problems and even tragedy. Recently, a 16-year-old girl from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, committed suicide after failing to pass the entrance exam for a respected senior high school. The level of competition in China to be accepted into college is extremely high.

“But tests only tell you so much about Chinese students’ smarts”, says Xiaodong Lin, a professor of cognitive studies at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “When they come to university in the US, Chinese students tend to struggle with analytical writing, critical thinking, and communication with peers and professors,” Lin wrote in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party.

“While Chinese education has focused more on mastery of knowledge, the American education seems to emphasise how to learn, even though we may not do as a good job as we wish,” she wrote.

While Chinese students tend to work very hard and succeed in school, American students are taught to be independent thinkers, challenge others’ opinions and be confident in their judgement, which could be considered more useful later in their lives. However they are often over-confident, and want to be “the boss instead of the soldier”.

Looking at the PISA study results, it seems that the highest-ranking countries were the ones which had longer school days, though some countries show that this is not the case. For example, the school system in Finland is different in many ways to China’s yet they have constantly ranked in the top countries of the study.

There are no mandated standardised tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of the students’ senior year of high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons between students, schools or regions. Homework is minimal and teachers, instead of spending more time in the classroom, use this time to build curriculums and assess their students. In this way, each student receives the amount of attention he needs.

Finland’s performance in PISA shows that increasing the length of school days and the amount of homework are not the only factors which increase scores in the test. It is also a balance between the Chinese and American systems which gives every student an opportunity to score well without extra work and pressure.

Useful links

Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?

Every child has special needs: “secrets” of Finnish education

OECD work on education

Gender Equality and the Sustainable Development Goals

NAECMonika Queisser, Senior Counsellor, OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

The push for policies to improve gender equality at the global level is getting new impetus through the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG No. 5 is devoted to gender equality and aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. The goal’s detailed targets refer to a range of challenges, such as discrimination of women, violence against women, reproductive health, ownership rights and technology. Global progress in reaching these targets has been uneven. Despite impressive progress in enrolling girls in primary education, for example, gender equality in many other domains is still in far reach in the developing world.

This does not mean, however, that advanced economies can lean back and close the file. No single OECD country can claim to have achieved full gender equality.  Women are now as well or even better educated than men in most countries and their participation in the labour market has increased, but they still spend fewer hours in paid work per week than their partners. And even the most advanced countries, such as the Nordics, where women are well integrated in the labour markets, are faced with stubbornly high gender wage gaps and a continued lack of women in senior management positions, for example.

The consensus is growing that traditional gender stereotypes and roles are standing in the way of further progress in closing the gender gaps. In literally all countries for which data exist women do more unpaid work than men. As a result they have less time for paid work and fewer opportunities to develop their careers. Policy makers are thus starting to focus more on a better sharing of caring responsibilities and domestic work. This new policy direction is also reflected in one of the targets under SDG 5 which calls upon governments to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.”

New evidence from the OECD shows that countries with the smallest gender gaps in caring responsibilities also have the smallest gender gaps in employment rates. On average, female partners spend twice as much time in unpaid work at home than their partners. Couples where women participate more in the labour market, also appear to have a better gender balance in their cooking, caring and cleaning chores. But sadly this is not due to men doing more at home. The reason is that partnered women and dual-earner couples overall do less unpaid work.

Parenthood marks a turning point in the way couples share household and caring tasks.  When a child arrives couples often revert to more traditional gender roles. Mothers may spend more time with their children than fathers, but fathers spend a larger proportion of their childcare time with “quality” interactive activities such as reading, playing and talking with the child than mothers.

The reasons why women do more unpaid work are manifold; some women prefer fewer hours in paid work or to not work in a paid job at all, particularly when they have young children. But many other women would like to be in paid work and/or work more hours. But they struggle to reconcile work and family life due to constraints such as limited access to affordable and good quality child care or flexible working hours. OECD analysis has also revealed several other factors that may influence the sharing of unpaid work among partners, such as family size, education and/or the relative earnings potential of partners. Gender inequality in the public sphere, societal attitudes, and policies, in particular parental leave arrangements, are also associated with different levels of sharing across countries.

In 2014, G20 leaders adopted a common goal of reducing the gender gap in labour force participation by 25% by 2025. Better sharing of unpaid and paid work will be an important element of any strategy to reach this ambitious target. But change will not happen if gender equality is only pushed by women and for women. Men need to be champions as well if barriers and gender stereotypes are to be broken down. And there is a lot in it for men too. They will be able to spend more time with their family without harming their careers, if this becomes more of a shared norm. There will be more freedom to choose one’s role in society and less pressure for men to be the sole or main breadwinner of the family. Having more income from women’s work will provide greater financial security for their households and reduce overall income inequality. Men, like women, will benefit equally from broader effects of more gender equality, such as stronger economic growth, higher productivity, and improved sustainability of social protection systems. And children will not only be happier to spend more time with both of their parents, but as they grow up, they will find it normal for fathers to spend more time at home and mothers to spend more time at work. More gender equality is thus a win-win proposition, everyone has to gain from it.

Useful links

OECD work on gender equality

Women Deliver (WD) 4th Global Conference, 16-19 May, Copenhagen. The WD gender equality site is here

OECD Forum 2011. Work and family – a tough balance to strike

Cherie Blair offered some insights into the battle to balance work and family life during a session at the OECD 50th Anniversary Forum. Ms. Blair has a unique perspective – she’s a leading barrister in the United Kingdom and, of course, spent a decade in 10 Downing Street as wife of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

She recalled that back in the 1970s, both she and her husband were competing for the same job in a legal firm. “They took Tony because they thought he was a better bet,” she said. “Seven years later, he left that job and hasn’t been a lawyer since; 35 years later I’m still a lawyer.” The incident underlined what she felt was the danger of employers failing to take a long-term perspective: Over the course of a career, she said, maternity leave took women out of the workplace for only a relatively short time, and it should not be seen as a barrier to hiring. 

Ms. Blair also emphasised that parental rights were not just a woman’s issue: Men, she said, needed to assert their right to be caring parents. Women, she said, did twice as much childcare as men, and three times as much housework as men. While Tony had done his share of childcare, she told the audience, he had slipped behind on the housework. She said also that there could be cultural obstacles to men performing their parenting role. In some companies there was also an attitude that “real men don’t take parental leave.” Those attitudes needed to change, she said: “A distant absent father is not good for society.”

In Japan, fewer than 2% of men took paternity leave, said Yoshinori Suematsu, a Japanese Senior Vice-Minister. The rapid ageing of the Japanese population meant it was important to get as many women as possible into the workforce, he said. Japanese needed a new system of childcare so that women could work outside house and not worry about childcare. 

Changing attitudes wasn’t easy, he admitted, but, as Carlos Mulas-Granados, Executive Director of Spain’s IDEAS Foundation, pointed out, they can be changed. The decision to appoint equal numbers of women and men as ministers in the Spanish government had helped shift how women were viewed, he said, especially the sight of a woman defence minister going about her duties. “A pregnant woman reviewing the troops was a very powerful image,” he said.  

Ms. Blair agreed that women in government could serve as important role models. She recalled a story she’d heard from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected woman president in Africa, about touring a school in Liberia. As the tour went on, the children grew tired and restless, and one little girl found herself being ticked off by a teacher: “Be careful what you say to me, Sir,” the little girl replied, “because one day I could be president.”  

Useful links

OECD work on families and children  

Babies and Bosses  – an OECD study on reconciling work and family life