In this episode Willem kindly hosted me in his office in Paris, at the OECD. Anybody who has come across the issue of work-life balance or reconciling work and family life has at one point read Babies and Bosses, the 2007 OECD publication, which is so to speak the policy bible on the subject, at least for the OECD countries. And as we are also very interested in bridging research, best practices and policies, this was a great opportunity to touch a bit on all of these.
The OECD definitely has an air about it that people admire, its research and publications are always very solid, so my first question to Willem was naturally about his experience working for the OECD. He confirms, that it is such a diverse place, that one always gets exposed to such a variety of impulses, mindsets and cultures, which then nourishes new ideas and new approaches.
People want the best for their children, and care for them personally and at the same time also care for them financially and earn money, and in many OECD countries combining the two is very difficult.
So what are some of the policy objectives countries would like to achieve? Not only does Willem give us the rundown of them, but also illustrates how some countries are attempting to achieve them, from ensuring child wellbeing to fighting family and child poverty, as well as gender equality and work-life balance. The OECD has launched just recently their Gender portal, which is a great resource for anyone looking for studies, policy briefs, analyses on the related issues.
Depending on which policy objectives receive priority, countries and their policy makers will create the policy mix to reach those objectives, hopefully. I ask Willem to share with us his experience, and we start off by talking about the Nordic countries. Attitude surveys in the Nordic countries confirm that the majority of the population believes that fathers should care for the children as much as the mothers, therefore gender equality features very strongly in the mix.
In other countries as well there is a growing realisation, that if you want to bring women, who these days have a higher educational attainment than men, into the economy, and not waste their talent, than men have to also take part in the care of children, elderly, the household, all manner of unpaid care work, which is reserved for women in many countries.
The idea that gender equality also depends on men gives governments a direct policy lever to change behaviour through policies. Influencing men’s behaviour is probably most effective, when they have just become a father. This transition period is an opportunity to introduce measures, such as parental leave, to engage men more in care.
Korea and Japan have very recently introduced very long parental leaves. However these measures are just part of the levers to achieve change. Leadership and workplace cultures are very important influencers - and they are also very slow to change. Why men don't take their leave they are entitled to? Some men speak of the drop in household income, some believe it will be bad for their colleagues, or that it ruins their career. And this is probably even true, especially in the countries with very rigid ideal worker models, where career progression is very seniority based. If you drop out, and your competitors for the promotion don’t take leave, you will be left behind.
I ask Willem for another example for a country that has gone through major change, and he tells me and listeners about the remarkable policy and societal change Germany has gone through in the past decade.
Every country is different with their unique culture, unique perspective on work and parenthood, therefore there isn't an easy answer or quick fix. They each have to find the right policy mix that will serve their objective - and for this the receive guidance, inspiration and evidence based policy recommendations from the OECD.