I was introduced to Eric by a common acquaintance, who very kindly thought to put us in touch given our common interests on topics like gender equality in the workplace, work life balance, retention of talents and in general driving cultural change in large corporations. We are now working together on a couple of initiatives and Eric has kindly agreed to be interviewd for one of our projects.
Eric Schuh is Head Casualty Centre, MD at SwissRe. He is also passionate about gender equality and about achieving a balanced number of women executives. Eric is the D&I Champion in EMEA for Swiss Re, father of two young children and promoter of the 30% Club initiative in Switzerland.
Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was launched in the UK almost 12 months ago. SPL gives mothers and fathers the right to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after the birth or adoption of their child. The real impact of the policy will be measurable only in some years but for now the progress, in terms of eligible fathers who have made use of the provision, has been very limited. One reason could be that despite the social shifts of recent decades, traditional ideas about the roles of men and women, particularly when it comes to caring for a baby, remain deep-rooted in the corporate world. Men who reduce their work in order to care for children fear being stigmatized. Many men would love to spend more time raising their children but feel unable to because of the impact on their career. Full article here
Manuela: Eric, what do you think of shared parental leave and the limited success it seems to have in some countries?
Eric: I think it's an obvious topic that needs to be actively advanced. Women get behind men on the income trajectory during those critical years when they "lose time" (in the corporate world) and men "accelerate" (ironically, helped by the lower competition from women for the same reason). Let's not forget that it's not "just" about the three months to one year that a woman might be away from her company after giving birth to a child. It starts much earlier, with the point in time when you disclose that you're pregnant. Projects that require continuity etc. won't necessarily be given to the pregnant woman. Any promotions that could have gone through might be stalled as well. So the time "lost" is much longer, in particular if promotions get delayed, many extra years of ramp-up towards a new attempt might be the result, and before that another pregnancy might "get into the way" – or the fact that the woman is not working 100%. This status quo cannot be accepted any longer. So unless we find a way to share the burden that early year child care is more fairly among mother and father we'll cement the situations where fathers end up earning multiples of mothers and after, say, two children a decision who works 100% and who works part-time is almost dictated by economic considerations. So early "intervention" or prevention is key.
The ex Norway Prime Minister was interviewed and asked about the reasons behind the success of her country (beyond the obvious oil related wealth) as in the 80s Norway was nowhere close to where it is now, its economy weak and common people barely able to afford decent living. "Success comes from the fact that you see fathers pushing strollers at 3pm on a working day" she said. "What has changed in these 30 years are family politics and work culture. Retaining talented women in the workforce, giving family benefits and allowing fathers to be fathers and workers without stigma. Shorter working days and flexible working, which results into creative and flexible thinking".
M. How long will it be before such initiatives can have a real impact, and why does there seem to be such a different culture between Nordic countries and the rest of Europe?
E. These initiatives require a strong political will, as they're as much about how we want to live in our society than about business considerations. It requires a liberal societal model and not all Western countries are culturally the same regarding this aspect. As often, anchoring bias is strong, in particular maybe in countries that are rich already, so "everything seems to be working fine" – why change? There is evidence of course that labor participation rates by women have a massive impact on economic growth, e.g. the "Asian miracle" in the late 20th century is partly driven by women entering the labor force, to my knowledge. In countries like Switzerland, where the capital stock per person is very high, economic aspects will likely not be enough to lead to change, the societal will is probably also required, and that means from both women and men. I don't think we have enough awareness yet how different such a society would be, hence we should continue building that awareness.
M. Would you take SPL if it was available in Switzerland? To what extent? Would it help your partner`s career?
E. I would do it today (our children were born in China and Switzerland). Especially, we were citizens of the country that we're living in. This is an important point: we should not forget that things can be quite tricky for non-citizens, as their ability to be in, e.g., Switzerland rests on them having a job (or better: both parents having a job). So the risk of "either I am allowed to reduce or I'll find a new job" can be prohibitive for Swiss citizens or foreigners alike who have a family with dependent children and only one well-paid job or at least risk is significantly higher. Nevertheless, we have to move in that direction.
Quoting again the FT article: " SPL should encourage fathers to be more involved in family life and mothers to return to work."
At the WEF this year Mercer launched its latest report "When women thrive businesses thrive", the findings were discussed by the CEOs of Cisco, eBay, Marriot and by the president of UBS Wealth Managament, Jürg Zeltner: "One other thing we all found common ground on was retaining talented women. They leave the workforce after you’ve invested and trained them as many find that workplaces are not family-friendly. Our challenge is to keep them and make the workplace flexible and supportive of their needs and priorities."
M. Norway and recently the UK have been taking clear steps towards achieving gender equality when it comes to parenthood. How do you evaluate Switzerland in terms of progress?
E. Many good initiatives, but some way to catch up. The response to companies' initiatives is clear – credible efforts in this direction lead to a lot of followership. We should not always look at what's not working yet but should keep an eye on the vision and work towards that.
M. Given the increasingly diverse and global workforce, how long before a cultural, shift similar to what Norway experienced, can take place in Switzerland? What are we missing?
E. I think it is happening already, but diversity alone and a global workforce is not going to solve it either. A different global workforce will be attracted, by the way, if both parents can expect to find a job, and not just one of them.
M. Are initiatives like SPL a solution to retain and foster more female talents? Do you have experiences to share?
E. I am sure they will not hurt. In fact, I think they will attract and retain both men and women. In general, one reason why diverse work forces lead to better results is that everyone on average is performing at a higher level. So I don't think this is something that companies should do to "support women", it's rather an economic imperative in its own right.
M. What is your own contribution to make a change in this direction? What legacy for our children when it comes to gender equality?
E. I am very conscious that I have also been "part of the problem", and severely so. My wife gave up her (very good) job when we moved abroad and took a break of more than five years from work – both because we simply weren't offered two jobs in the overseas location in Asia that we went to and then because we had two children. As a result, many of the situations that I described above are a reality for us personally as well. My wife benefitted from a very good programme here in Switzerland to get professional women back into the workforce and now is working again. I think we got very lucky and are grateful that this was possible. This is just one example. I have seen many other things at various employers over the years that also told me that the status quo is not "fair". No-one is "evil", but it's not fair yet for women, so it requires work. I want to be part of this work. This is not the dominating factor of my economic self-image and it doesn't govern my thinking day and night, it's just one of the things that I care about. We're working in businesses and must help them to get better.