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Anna Dobiegała: In 2018 and 2019, 1 percent of fathers took parental leave. Why so few?

Karolina Andrian*: The data you are referring to are the Social Insurance Institution’s data, i.e. the number of fathers receiving maternity allowance. In fact, there are also men who look after their young children, but are not entitled to benefits because they are not employed under an employment contract. I don’t think there are many such cases, but they might account for another percent of men taking this leave. But going back to the reasons, mainly cultural factors are at fault. In Poland, we are attached to the traditional family model. Although in surveys we declare that we are liberal, in our daily lives we follow tradition. IQS surveys show that 79 percent of respondents believe that mum and dad are equally good guardians for a child. However, the younger the child, the less willing we are to admit it. A male guardian is traditionally understood as a person who goes to work every morning and earns a living, and that’s how he looks after and takes care of his family.

And here comes the question of employment forms of women compared to men. Young women who are planning on having a child are trying to get a contract of employment. A man doesn’t think: what will I do on parental leave, how will I finance it? That is why he works under an order contract or a B2B contract, i.e. he issues an invoice and pays the minimum social security contribution. The consequence of this decision is an accordingly minimal income on parental leave. Sometimes employers decide to grant such men 100% paid paternity leave, but it is only two weeks long.

The constitution doesn’t mention fatherhood, only motherhood and parenthood.

This provision is primarily referred to by men fighting in court for child custody after a divorce. For them, this provision is very unfair, because the court can interpret it to their disadvantage. Unfortunately, it is only when a divorce occurs that fathers realise how limited their rights are.

On the one hand, the law and culture discriminate against men, on the other, they have more and more rights in Poland: they can take two weeks of paternity leave, a woman can share maternity leave with them, and finally they can take eight months of parental leave. Every fifth man who wanted to take parental leave claims that he didn’t because his partner wouldn’t allow it.

Research from the ‘Share the Care Foundation’ shows that women do not want to share childcare.

Yes, it’s true. We observe it in our work. That is why we encourage men to take parental leave and women to share it. At the beginning of work on our guide, I was convinced that employers can’t persuade women to share childcare with their partners. In the course of creating the guide, I changed my mind; it is important that the message about the division of roles in the family is also addressed to mothers. If women don’t share childcare with their partners, equality efforts will continue until the end of the world. If we want to be treated seriously on the labour market, we must allow men to take care of children and take on their part of household chores.

Family happiness is the most important value for 80 percent of Poles. This is the result of research carried out by the Public Opinion Research Center CBOS. What does a family gain from sharing childcare?

Everyone benefits from sharing childcare, but if I were to choose one person, I’d say that the biggest beneficiaries are children. They have a chance to build a strong emotional bond with both parents. If, in the traditional family model, the child’s mother leaves them for some reason, and such situations do occur, the child is alone. They wouldn’t feel this way if they had the same bond with their father. Mum and dad are different, there is no worse and better parent. The child, thanks to the perspective given by their mother and the perspective given by their father, has the opportunity to build a richer inner world. “Male” courage and the tendency to take risks will be very useful to a child in life and in growing up.

From a child’s perspective, financial stability is also important. If both parents work and suddenly the father loses his job, the family is not left without money, there’s mother’s salary. And the same happens when parents get a divorce. Sharing childcare is in the interest of the whole family.

Are men looking forward to changes?

Our research shows that there is a clear change in worldview in the 18-24 age group. Men in this group notice gender inequalities, that it is more difficult for women to get promoted at work, that they are less appreciated. They take paternity leave and are interested in their rights as fathers. The young generation, both women and men, don’t see their lives only through the prism of professional success. They want to have time for private life, for building the relationship with the child, they want a life in which they can fulfil many roles and combine them in a way that satisfies them.

That is why actions at ‘Share the Care’ are addressed to young people who are planning or will plan a child in the future. The difficulty is that men aged 35-45 and older look at the changes less favourably. It is difficult for them to understand the willingness of young men to slow down their careers (for older men taking parental leave is nothing but a slowdown or even giving up their careers) and take care of the child. They don’t support younger men and unfortunately men tend to listen to their own gender more favourably. They accept what women say to a much lesser extent.

Why is gender equality profitable?

A family in which a woman returns to work sooner, gains in the long run. Unfortunately, young parents often miss this. Women who return to work even two months sooner, work for a promotion, a pay rise and for their position in the company. Studies show that the first child and each subsequent one negatively affect women’s finances. The dynamics of the increase in their salary clearly slows down, which is later reflected in the amount of their pensions. The costs of the decision to have a child are borne mainly by the mother. On the contrary, a young father often gets a raise when a child is born, because he must now support a larger family.

I believe that the presence of women in public life, the use of their potential, including the potential of young mothers, will help build a better, equal, fair world. A woman who had just become a mother was appointed as the manager of a project prepared by the ‘Share the Care’ Foundation. Because of the pandemic, she worked from home and I found myself completely forgetting that she had just given birth, I didn’t notice it as her employer.

Exactly. Companies boast that they give young parents the opportunity to work remotely several days a month. The coronavirus has moved work home. Why not leave it this way?

The coronavirus has shown us that remote work is possible and I hope that it will become second nature to both employers and employees. It will certainly allow a more flexible approach to the topic, wherever possible. The work system is very archaic, it doesn’t match the new reality which favours flexibility, creativity and willingness to learn. The freedom to decide when I work and when I do household chores is very convenient for young parents. You can cook dinner for your children and go back to the computer. I think that the “gift” from the coronavirus is in the possibility of having greater control over your working time, this is also appreciated by employees without children as it is also very convenient for them.

Unfortunately, there are also dark sides. The number of scientific publications written at the beginning of the lockdown was analysed – it turned out that the number of women’s publications has decreased significantly. Not everyone has benefited from working from home. I think that not only in the scientific community, women, burdened with additional chores and teaching children, have become less efficient at work.

On the other hand, remote work is a big challenge. When I was working on the guide, just before the premiere, my three daughters were at my mother-in-law’s, so I devoted 12 hours to work every day. It really took its toll, I realised that I neglected the work-life balance, I didn’t take care for work hygiene. For me, my children are the ones that switch me back to life.

Poland is obliged to implement the EU work-life balance directive until mid-2022 [two months of non-transferable, paid parental leave exclusively for the father]. What is the response of companies in our country to the new regulations?

Surveys among fathers showed that the working environment is very important. Even if the company officially encourages employees to take parental leaves and supports parents, if a man doesn’t feel the support of his direct manager, he won’t take parental leave, he’ll be afraid. In the case of a woman, maternity leave can’t be postponed, whereas in the case of a man, you can wait until the end of the project, until the birth of the second child. It’s easier for a man to give up the parental leave than to use it. When a man says at work that he has a new born child, no one asks him about his plans concerning the parental leave. The only thing that is planned is the two-week paternity leave. But no one asks women if they share their leave with their partners either.

In the guide, we tell employers how they can promote paternity and parental leave, e.g. the company rules must clearly state what rights men have. The phrase “Dear Parent” isn’t clear to them, we must address them “Dear Dad”. Many of them don’t know that they are entitled to any other leave in addition to the paternity leave, for example, they have the right to sick leave so that they can take care of their partner after having a child.

From what you are saying it appears that the role of entrepreneurs is crucial.

Yes. In their company, they must create a culture in which taking paternity or parental leave by men is something obvious and not unique. We already have such companies in Poland such as partners of the guide project. These are large enterprises: Citi, NatWest, BNP Paribas, BGK. A lot of women work in these companies. Employers want them to be able to achieve professional fulfilment and for this to be possible, there must be a culture in which men decide to take parental leave and women share childcare with them.

In these companies there are fathers’ clubs, support for women in their professional ambitions, e.g. when a woman comes back to work after maternity leave and during this period there was a raise in the company, she also gets it. This is important not only from the point of view of a woman, but also from the point of view of a man, he will not miss anything when he decides to take care of the child. Other examples: IKEA and Mastercard which introduced paid, additional paternity leave in addition to the leave provided for in the labour law.

Are the rest of companies in Poland ready to support men in childcare?

They’ll have to adapt to this. We already have good practice, all the procedures we have in place for women have to be adapted for men, it is not that difficult... Employers say that pressure from the law is one thing, but they also expect pressure from employees. That is why it is so important for men to know their rights and for women and employers to see the benefits of engaging fathers in taking care of children.

* Karolina Andrian is the founder and president of the Share The Care Foundation. She works towards gender equality because she believes that this is the key to a better world. She is an expert in building work-family balance solutions in organisations. She co-hosts the podcast of the “Wspólne Dzieci = Wspólne Obowiązki” (Having Children Together = Shared Duties) Foundation, she is in charge of the #SiłaKobiet (Women’s Power) section in the “Personel i Zarządzanie” (Staff and Management) monthly. She completed the American Vital Voices Grow 2018 programme.

The Share The Care Foundation has published a guide entitled “50/50 benefits everyone! The role of employers in equalising the right of both parents to take care of a child”, which includes legal, social and economic articles as well as practices of employers who apply in their organisations solutions conducive to achieving work-family balance while respecting the right of both parents to take care of the child. The guide can be downloaded for free at www.sharethecare.pl/tosieoplaca

***
“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

 

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