New Fronts in the Struggle for Family-Work Balance

12/06/2012

Nearly 20 years after the first International Year of the Family, an initiative created by the United Nations in 1994 that is celebrated once a decade, developments in society have opened new fronts in the struggle for practices that support healthy family-work balance. 

In her visit to IESE’s Barcelona campus, UN Family Program Coordinator Renata Kaczmarska pointed out that despite progress in legislation regarding gender equality and family benefits, the changing nature of today’s jobs and workforce has raised new challenges for policymakers.
 
One of the most pressing issues worldwide, according to Kaczmarska, is the need for countries to adopt a “dual-earner system.” Currently, 52 percent of women form part of the global labor force, a percentage that will continue to rise in coming years and a reality that has already prompted a major restructuring of social trends. 
 
Although many households consequently rely on at least two incomes in order to get by, governments have not kept pace with the shift and policies still lag behind. 
 
The resulting landscape is one we can easily recognize — less family care available for children or aged parents, various generations living under the same roof (in Europe young adults are staying at home longer due to rising unemployment, for example), and grandparents filling in for infant care.
 
Furthermore, while working hours in developed countries might seem to have plateaued or even declined according to statistics, non-standard hours are now becoming the norm, so that clocking nights and weekends, or taking work home, is still cutting into family time.
 
IESE Prof. Nuria Chinchilla intervened with data from a recent study that reflects the single-earner mentality in this respect. Even though both parents must now fulfill caring responsibilities, the average amount of quality time men spend with their children amounts to 24 minutes per day, compared to 3 hours spent by women. 
 
Facts and figures must amount to more than a mere indictment, however, as Kaczmarska stressed. Uncovering these patterns helps reveal gaping holes in legislation, in business models, in governing bodies both small and large, that can be addressed in order to move forward. Before 1994, in Europe there was no minimum standard set for parental leave, she pointed out. Today some Scandinavian countries grant up to one year for maternity leave and Eastern European countries now offer paternity leave. 
 
In closing, Kaczmarska advised policymakers to search for new models that fit the current reality. Governments might consider following the example of Hungary, which offers benefits to grandparents caring for grandchildren. Or give compensation to parents who choose to stay home and take care of their children. Or increase the offer and choice of quality childcare centers and retirement homes. 
 
Kaczmarska also encouraged the audience to report any good practices they are aware of directly to the UN Family Program, so as to keep track of companies and leaders that are charting new paths in this area.