Many of you may have read the fascinating piece in the NY Times last week entitled In Sweden, Men Can Have It All. If you haven't, it is worth the click! Because, in a nutshell, it is about a whole society that is purposefully built to embrace gender equality - and equally shared parenting. Let me share with you what I took from the article...
In a country where 85% of fathers take paternity leave, a new definition of masculinity is taking hold. Men who balance fathering with work are more attractive than those who leave the home duties to their children's mothers. Household cleaning product advertisements no longer feature only women. And two full months of Sweden's generous 13 month paid parental leave must be given to fathers...or forfeited altogether. What's more, there is a political push to extend this to a full four months come September.
How has this all been possible for the companies that have to fund all of this time off, and cover for the men who are home while still turning a profit? With an even playing field throughout the country, they have managed amazingly well. For every man who takes his time off, a woman could go back to work for that time period. And state sponsorship sure helps. Companies are even finding that their job flexibility ratings work in their favor, as more and more workers of both genders come to expect such flexibility and employers who can provide it can get the best pick of recruits. Leave time often allows companies to test out future employees on a short-term basis, as well, as they cover for those who are out at home.
Divorce and separation rates are down, shared custody is up, and women's paychecks are flourishing. Sweden's gender-equal policies also allow both parents to request reduced hours rather than simply chunks of time solely at home. They can, for example, both elect to work 6-hour days until their children enter school (doesn't that sound like a wonderful balance?).
The Swedish system has not always been smooth and successful. In the beginning, it allowed parents themselves to choose how they would divide up the full parental leave time - resulting in essentially the opposite of what thought leaders hoped to achieve. Women took the majority of this time, further reducing their career and earnings capacity, while men soared ahead in their careers and left their childraising skills to languish. Enter the use-it-or-lose-it genius of today, and gender equality has hit a tipping point that makes it a generally normal state of affairs. In other words, making equally shared parenting a socially easy path to take. The lesson, as Sweden's deputy prime minister says, is: "The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home."
Equality is not yet achieved in every Swedish home, however. Women still take the majority of the leave time, and handle more of the childraising and household tasks. But the early adopters of full-out ESP are out there in mainstream view - those couples who share the leave time about evenly and switch off their time at home so neither parent becomes the family manager and both can share the joy along with way.
Of course, there are plenty of early adopters right here in the US too, where policies are not so magically geared towards our priorities, but we refuse to settle for lives that don't make sense to us and find ways to make ESP happen anyway. All of this Sweden stuff does make me drool, however...and wish for a little visit to the Arctic Circle.