Everyone knows how much life is going to change once you have kids.
In the case of mothers, not many know how much maternity can teach you. No university, master, no job, no mentor will get closer to teaching you a fraction of what you will learn.
Especially if you happen to have children in Switzerland and you happen to be interested in your career.
In contrast with the rest of Europe, where the average allowance for maternity leave goes from 1 year (in various combinations, paid and unpaid and the average mother takes 10-11 months off) to 3 years (a bit unrealistic I dare say for your career but so they have it in Northern Europe) and where maternity and paternity leave can often be shared, in Switzerland the government allows for 3 months maternity leave for mothers and zero paternity leave for fathers.
Some companies 'double' that, so that if you plan properly you go back to work leaving behind a 3-5 months old baby. Mind you, make sure you are never ever sick in those last 8 weeks prior to due date, because if you are, or if you are put at bed rest, your maternity allowance will kick off immediately and if you have a luxurious package of 6 months maternity leave, you will be left with 4 months once the baby is born.
No pressure there.
After that, either you go back or you lose your job. And good luck with re-entering the corporate world once you have left to be a stay at home mum.
Return rate of mothers after the first child in some companies in Switzerland is lower than 30%.
It is very simple to understand why. One reason is that the equation childcare versus average salary does not work. Plus not many mothers I know are are happy to leave a 2-5 months old baby in nursery school, where they will likely get sick day in day out because, research says, doctors whisper, their immune systems were never made for such a bombardment of germs and viruses at such a young age.
Then as a sleep deprived parent who is under a lot of pressure from all sides you will get sick too with whatever it was that your baby caught in school. Only, babies bounce back in 3 days, you will feel poorly for a week at best. Good luck with balancing a sick family, a sick baby, a sick self and not dropping balls at work.
The average salary of a full time employee in Switzerland is about CHF 5,000 - 6,000 net per month. (Source here).
Full time nursery school for one child in Zurich costs between CHF 2500 and CHF 3000 per child per month.
There are some state subsidized nurseries. The waiting lists are 3 years long in some cases and if you both work and are above a certain income threshold you don't qualify. 95% of the people I know where both parents work go private. And no, I don't know an incredible number of ultra wealthy families.
The situation gets probably worse when children reach the 5 year old mark, kindergarten age. If you made it till there you can finally enjoy a state subsidized school.
At least 4 hours a day.
Kindergarten starts on average at 8am and closes doors at 11.50am. Two afternoons a week children go back from 2pm to 4pm.
Of course there is after school care, Horts. They don't come for free at all, but give an option. The problem is that sometimes schools and Horts are not connected nor walking distance, so who is going to drive your 5 year old? A nanny, a driver?
Many, again, go private. That, for two kids, will be between CHF 5,000 and CHF 6,000 a month. Apply that for 12 years if you have had a private nursery too.
Consider also that taxation is built for a one salary only family so if you are married and both work your taxes will be higher than unmarried couples.
What this means is that often only those in high paying jobs go back to work.
And we know that talent does not always go hand in hand with salary level. So how many talented women have we lost along the way?
This is not about stay at home versus working. This is about having a choice and living it without stigmas, prejudice, judgement or major impact on your career.
Some women simply don't have the choice.
Another reason for the low return rate of mothers is without a doubt pressure.
Those who think have a choice and despite all of the above go back to their jobs because the maths salary/school works or for whatever reason, need to grow a thick skin. I often play 'Mummy dinosaur' with my kids these days. Can you guess why?
You will be told that your children suffer because of your choice (going back to work) by nursery school teachers. Asked why are you doing this to your family (going back to work) by your family doctor. Told by teachers that your toddler has tantrums or is jealous of his little brother because you, the Mother, don't spend enough one to one quality time with him and ideally two hours of solo time a day would really help. Perhaps you work too much?
Would these questions be asked in other European countries or in the US? I am not sure.
You will be asked whether your husband makes enough money and if so why do you still insist and work. The fact that you invested a lot in your job, your studies, or that - God forbid - you enjoy working, will not even go through their minds.
Even well meaning colleagues sometimes will say 'ohh you work full time? Ohhh and your kids are ok?'.
Your career will stall. That promotion you worked so hard for? Nope, you are a mum now, you even chose to work part time for a year (70% employment for example). All those pats on the shoulder for all those great projects you launched that had a great impact and were highly successful? All those outstanding results at the yearly evaluations? Talent prizes? All that was supposed to lead to that so deserved promotion and new responsibilities?
Thank you, now that you are pregnant/have come back and have a baby at home you can hand them over to your more junior, child free, incredibly less experienced and educated, less prepared male colleague. Who has never walked into a university but once promoted will ask for part time to do a crash online master degree with the university of Taiwan so that he too can have a master.
It is totally cool! Well done for your efforts!
Never mind it took you 5 years of hard offline work back in your twenties to have a (real) master degree. It is also totally cool and not a problem that he asks for part time for an online one year university degree.
Whereas you asked for part time to do what? To stay with your child 1.5 days a week for a year while anyway working away from your blackberry? You obviously have no interest in your career. You work after the kids are in bed to make up for that time and keep up with the workload of colleagues who work 100%. And deliver a lot more than them? Well sorry, face time and sitting at your desk in some cases pretending you are working after 6pm will enhance your career. Delivering results even leaving before 6pm while also raising a family? Nope. Sadly (maybe) you can't just sit around after 6pm because nursery school will leave your child waiting outside. That means you have to leave your desk at 5pm and see eyebrows being raised in some cases.
You will hear that some line managers walk around after 6pm to see who is around. Because those deserve a lot more praise than those who are doing 3 jobs and still delivering.
You will see younger childless women telling you that after all you can't complain you did not get that promotion because in 5 years you took a total of 10 months off to go and have two children! What do you expect? They will hit the same wall, worry not, but this mindset is dangerous.
You will see amazingly talented women losing their jobs once they are mums, one after the other. You will see them being bullied and shutting up, closer every day to giving up. You will see many of them struggling to get ahead in their careers or to find new jobs.
You will be told by that 40 year old childless guy who could have performed in Wall Street with Michael Douglas, that 'you really have nothing better to do?!' When you share that at 34, 2 years after baby 1, you are having baby 2.
In the corporate world you will hear women coming back from honey moons telling whoever would listen, that no no no, her and her husband will never ever have children, this is their agreement. She will never be a mother she says. Because she is beyond terrified of what might happen to her career if she does.
People in the corporate world will tell fathers that they are unlucky if their wives work.
In the corporate world you will talk to mothers who will not admit to having children or will change the topic if during informal occasions any talk of children is made.
You will have pressure. A lot of it. From all sides, in all different ways.
You will see amazing fathers who want to spend more time with their children being denied time off or flexible working. Stigmatized for wanting to change an old working model.
At the same time if a father takes two hours off to make a doctor appointment with his child, all praise will be on him. If his wife does it, well, working mums can be unreliable you know.
This is not about one specific company or Switzerland only, a country I love, despite its punishing culture versus working mothers, and fathers.
This is to raise awareness on the elephant in the room, to empower mothers to fight back injustice in the workplace, to shed light on the real status quo with those who could improve the situation, to drive a much needed cultural change.
This is a reminder that the skills deriving from parenthood, from raising children, from balancing work and life, are among the most valuable, in the workplace as well as in our society.
Corporations, economies and societies are losing out on growth and productivity. Those countries and companies who won't adapt their models and enable a healthy work life integration will lose talents and skilled workforce.
Calling on all parents because change won't happen if we don't drive it.