Picture: Nani Annette 2020
Less than ten percent of all family leave in Finland is taken by fathers. It has been suggested that one reason for this are the attitudes held by employers. In this blog post, I will share my experiences at Solita: what it was like to take six months of family leave and how I witnessed Solita encouraging family leave for fathers.
Some four years ago, when I applied for a data scientist position at Solita, my interviewer mentioned that Solita was very family-friendly – “even if it wasn’t topical right now.” Almost exactly two years after that, my spouse showed me two blue lines on a stick, and we started preparing for a new kind of life.
Employer supports parents early
My employer’s support for parents started well before we reported the pregnancy: flexible hours allowed maternity clinic visits without further justification nor revealing the reason for the absence. They were paid work hours for fathers as well. This was particularly significant for parents who were having their first child, offering an equal opportunity to participate from the very beginning.
The law is very clear on the parents’ right to leave. Solita also encourages fathers to exercise their right – the attitudes of the father’s employer have been recognised as one of the most significant factors affecting how they take family leave. Even before my own child was born, I had noticed that fathers who stayed at home to care for an ill child raised no eyebrows, for example, so I expected good things.
The decision that I would take my paternity leave (six weeks) and also half (13 weeks) of our parental leave was received positively. The employer’s only question was when I would start my leave and thus need a successor in my projects. This is how things should work, but many acquaintances in the same situation have told me a vastly different story, both within and without the technology industry: while there is awareness of the father’s right to family leave, the attitude in practice at some companies shifts between “you’re kidding, why won’t the mother stay at home” and “please reconsider, it’s so hard to find substitutes.”
From consultant to stay-at-home dad
Going on family leave felt like taking on a whole new position. Successors needed to be found and brought onboard for projects while the countdown kept putting on pressure. There was a farewell party, handshakes and nods, and a farewell present from the project team. Yet there was no melancholy over changing jobs, as I knew I would be returning to the same people in six months.
Picture from home album
Naturally, I was also anxious about being on leave – I would take principal responsibility for the child. What would become our routines? When would we eat, sleep, and play? How would the child react to the mother’s absence? At the same time, I knew that I could learn all this, through trial and error if necessary, and maybe I was eager to show that we would be fine at home even if mom was at work all day.
As I was leaving, I made an arrangement with my supervisor to keep my company laptop and phone for the duration of the family leave. We also agreed that I would keep tabs on my email, Slack, the intranet, and other communication channels as (and if) I liked, and that they would call me every two months to catch up. My work laptop ended up mostly gathering dust, but it was reassuring to know that I could get up to speed quickly once back at work, seeing as time would not be wasted on setting up a new computer. I uninstalled the Slack app from the phone after a couple of weeks when I realised that it was diverting my thoughts to work too much.
Family leave was a good reminder that not everything needs to strictly follow the calendar or project timetables. The lack of a schedule was actually a little unnerving at first, as I felt lost on what to do and when, but I was soon enjoying the freedom – I just needed to plan half a day ahead for where to eat, when to nap, and what to pack in the diaper bag.
Picture from home album
Those six months of parental leave, paternity leave, and summer holidays passed in a flash, even with the shock and disruption of the coronavirus epidemic. For example, the museum card gifted by my colleagues has remained unused in my inbox. The silver lining in everyone working remotely has been the virtual coffee breaks in which I could participate while out with the pram or at home while the child was asleep.
What to do when the maternity, paternity, and parental leave are over? Every family will find their solution. We decided that both parents would take partial child care leave and work half their regular hours. This would keep us connected to both working and family life. We were fortunate in that Solita was more than fine with this. After my first alternating work weeks, it certainly feels like our solution is working in practice!
Conclusions after family leave
As a student, my impression of “family-friendly” consulting firms was that I could work less, “only 40 hours a week!” Fortunately, our reality turned out more humane. It is easy to agree with the view of my family mentor Valtteri that today I would not even consider working at a company that was not genuinely family-friendly from the ground up.
Taking six months off for family leave was absolutely a good decision. It allowed me to witness the development of my child as it happened. Today, our child is just as happy in the care of either parent. Both parents now have experience in staying at home and working while the other stays at home, and we can appreciate the perks of both home life and working life even better than before.
Why choose between your career and family when you can have both? Would you like to hear more about my experiences? Feel free to network with me!
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