Finland has already enjoyed positive coverage on News & Views this year, thanks to its PM Sanna Marin’s plans to nudge the country towards a four-day week. Now, minister of social affairs and health Aino-Kaisa Pekonen has unveiled a bold reform to the nation’s parental leave policy that aims to give fathers the same amount of time off as mothers.

In a statement, Pekonen explained that the reform “guarantees the child a place at the centre of family benefits and promotes wellbeing and gender equality”. [1]

Under the new system, the total amount of families’ allowance days would rise from the current 11.5 months to more than 14 months. Each parent would receive an equal quota of 164 allowance days, or 6.6 months. Each parent would also be able to transfer 69 days from their own quota to their partner’s.

A pregnant parent would be entitled to a separate allowance period of around one month before the parental allowance period kicks in. Meanwhile, a single parent would have access to the full allowance quota held by a two-parent family.

In Pekonen’s view, the revamped policy signals a “major change in attitudes”. She said: “The reform will support all kinds of families and ensure equal leaves for children regardless of the form of the family. Sharing parent responsibilities in everyday life will become easier, and the relationship between both parents and the child will be strengthened from the early childhood. The livelihood of families with small children will also improve … Flexibility would increase from the present level, and parents would be able to take leave in several periods if they so wished.”

However, she added: “The daily allowance reform alone will not solve the everyday challenges faced by families with small children. Above all, a change towards family-friendliness is needed in workplace attitudes, in society as a whole and within families. I therefore invite employers to join us in this change and to look for means by which it is genuinely possible to combine working life and family.”

Interestingly, a 2019 UNICEF report on family-friendly policies around the world threw down a similar gauntlet to employers, with the NGO’s executive director Henrietta Fore saying, “We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children. And we need the support and influence of the private sector to make this happen.” [2]

What should business leaders take away from Finland’s reform of its parental leave policy?

The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “I have been asked a number of times to comment on the poor take-up of shared parental leave in the UK and, in my view, it’s certainly the case that the sort of zero-sum system we’ve had in the past – whereby one parent gets it and the other doesn’t – has contributed to the low level of interest. Campaigners have consistently argued that parental leave must be apportioned between both parents, and I’ve always considered that a new baby, especially a first one, is at least a three-parent job. So, you both need time off with the child.”

Cooper notes: “While we should welcome initiatives such as Finland’s, we tend to forget that parenthood isn’t just about nurturing a baby through those important first few months. It goes on and on – right up to, and including, when the children have grown into independent adults. As such, if organisations are to effectively combine parenting with work, and if they want to include all parents as equal participants in the workforce, they must change their attitudes. There has to be a move away from the assumption that, somehow, one parent is the main carer and the other dips in whenever work allows.”

On a related note, Cooper explains: “I’ve been looking at some really interesting research on the division of domestic tasks between same-sex couples. The data suggests that, typically, duties remain evenly balanced right up to the point when the couple starts parenting. After that, the higher-earning half tends to do less domestic labour – so, this model we’ve constructed around how unpaid work gets done, and who gets to do it, is a heterosexual norm or paradigm that has transferred itself to same-sex couples.”

She adds: “What we can learn from the Finland reform – and Pekonen’s remarks – is that, yes, we need a legislative push to start conveying the message that equality of parental responsibilities is okay. But until we have picked up that message and embedded it in the way we run our organisations, it won’t make a difference by itself. Of course, flexible working is an excellent means of allowing people to control their caring responsibilities, or to have greater scope for managing them. And the more we move away from presenteeism and acknowledge that high-quality work can be done in different places, the more flexible working will flourish.

“At the same time, there will be groups of people for whom flexible working may not be a good fit for scheduling or other business reasons – and when people in those groups have children, they will require the greatest support through shared parental leave.”

For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on appreciating diversity

Source refs: [1] [2]

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