Odgers berndtson
Location and language Germany | EN

Parental support: how can we best get the balance right?

Tackling the gender gap when it comes to child-care can help release the valuable diversity of leaders required for an increasingly complex world.

Why are so preoccupied with the gender pay gap compared to the gender child-care gap?

No-one wants to hear that women continue to earn less (and not rise as far) than men, but it seems that we’re not too worried that fathers spend significantly less time with their children than mothers do.

In 2022, German mothers applied for an average of 14.6 months parental leave and fathers just 3.6.

In 2021, a good one quarter of all mothers whose youngest child is under 6 years old were on parental leave. This applied to just 1.6% of fathers.

The difference between men and women is quite remarkable since the German system allows mothers and fathers to decide freely about how much time each of them takes.

So, what is going on?


Not just old attitudes

Yes, there are some antiquated attitudes at play. An expectation that women are the ‘natural’ care givers and men are the one who should have the career.

Our values seem to elevate economic achievement rather than the virtues of care giving for example.

Even at the top level of government, the thinking seems regressive: in the draft 2024 budget plan, there is a proposal to cut parental leave allowance for higher income earners from next year, affecting 50,000 parents - about 5% of all recipients.

Criticized as a wrong signal for gender equality in Europe's biggest economy, it would push women, who typically earn less than their partners, to be fully dependent on them during first-year childcare leave, and remove the incentive for men to stay at home to care for the child.

"We cannot break up traditional gender roles in this way," Beate von Miquel, the head of Germany's Women's Council, told Reuters.


The right thing for everyone

For corporates looking to do the right thing, and ensure that their talented leaders do find a good work-life balance with all of its benefits, what are the options?

First, a firm commitment to creating a more equitable situation should be clear and unambiguous at every level of the organization.

Being a parent should not limit an employee’s ability to fulfill their individual goals

says Dr. Kai Böttcher, associate partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

We should celebrate that becoming a parent teaches us, no matter what our gender, very powerfully lessons on how to be empathetic, selfless, nurturing, encouraging, patient and to prioritize conflicting demands. Each and every one of those is an important skills that a good leader should hold – whatever your gender.


Not all families are the same

It is also important to break down any barriers by realizing that families come in all shapes and sizes. They are not all the traditional stereotypical idea of the nuclear family — 2 married, heterosexual parents of the same race with 2 biological children.

To truly acknowledge diversity, some have suggested that parental leave should reflect an expanded definition of caregiving.

An inclusive leave policy might also cover a situation where an employee takes time to care for any family member: aging parents, sick partners, adolescent children, or those with special needs.

The best way for senior leaders to make sure such policies are effective (some employees can lack confidence in taking their rightful time away) is to actively encourage it and model this behavior themselves.

Also, no employee should feel that those taking parental (or other caregiving) are somehow adding to their workload whilst their colleagues with older children enjoy increased flexibility.


Flexibility is the key

Flexibility should be the benefit for everyone, with the balance between working from home and in the office a key measure. The more autonomy people have in determining their work schedules and locations, the more chance of fulfilled, engaged, and loyal employees.

That flexibility might mean re-engineering a position so that someone can step away from their careers entirely for a period of time to focus on child-rearing or other family needs. Enabling them to stay connected through professional networks during that time away can help both sides when re-entry in a phased or complete form is considered.


Good for everyone

Encouraging parents to share childcare more equitably via flexible policies, a clear corporate commitment and a truly supportive environment will help us have more talented women in leadership roles. This will, in turn, allow for more diversity in leadership thinking which we know leads to better decision-making. And that’s got to be good for everyone.


Helping make diversity journeys happen

As an executive search firm, we know it is not just ensuring that the benefits of leadership diversity are offered to our clients and our methodology reflects that. But we also know that  recruiting and developing leaders with the right attitudes, attributes and value is the most effective way to drive further diversity.

Our LeaderFit profile model can help provide just such a picture of those who might have the potential to succeed as an inclusive leader. By using a unique leadership assessment methodology that combines personality data, behavioural patterns and leadership experts’ judgement, we can paint a picture of individual performance in targeted senior roles.

We have experience of assessing and developing leaders across publicly traded companies, privately funded companies, and government/not-for-profit organizations.

To discuss your current talent plans, or your individual career trajectory and ambitions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’ll be keen to hear from you.

Originally published: 10/08/2023
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