February 18, 2016 — Dutch business media lit up recently with the story of Yonego, a small Internet marketing company based in the city of Breda, which has agreed to offer its employees four weeks paid paternity leave. The first candidate starts his papamaand in April 2016. This is in stark contrast to the statutory two days currently on offer in the Netherlands, which will be increased to a paltry five days in 2017.
Yonego's founder JorisToonders explained that the happiness of employees is an extremely sound investment, and one that is often underestimated. He cited the importance of his long-term business strategy and explained how such initiatives create two-way loyalty.
What struck me most, skimming through the coverage, was the apparent lack of understanding for Yonego’s motivation. In my experience, the Netherlands, despite being viewed from the outside as a land of tolerance and equality, is still stuck in an odd mix of 1950s family values and 2000s economic reality. It regularly trots out the stereotype of the male who is incompetent domestically (just take a look at the Jumbo Supermarket ads as an example), whilst praising itself for the flexibility offered to men with their papadag ('daddy day') if they choose to work four days a week.
The fact is there’s a solid case for extended paternity leave, and larger tech companies are beginning to wise up to this. It’s not just that these organisations can attract more diverse talent, allowing them to be more innovative and productive. Generous paternity leave policies help companies hold onto their talent, and reduce attrition costs. Fathers who feel that they’re not encouraged to make time for their families are likely to leave their jobs and look for opportunities with other companies that have more flexible benefits.
Paternity leave is good for women, too. In the wider economy, involved fathers allow mothers to return more quickly and more fully to the workplace, allowing parent couples to be more interchangeable and less focussed on one half being the care provider and one being the cash provider.
Finally, studies have shown that involved fathers can create happier, more intellectually developed children, accustomed to the nurturing styles of both women and men—great news for the generation to come.
There is a peculiar dichotomy in the Dutch policy of continually encouraging women to participate more fully in the economy, and yet just last year introducing sweeping reforms to outsource sick and elderly care to ‘unofficial’ and unpaid sources, such as family and neighbours (who are usually women).
The Netherlands is a country crying out for a different way of doing things—one that departs from the traditional zuilen (pillars) dividing the country along economic and social lines, and the heavily gendered media.
Millennials entering the workforce are much less likely than previous generations to conform to the strong gender norms handed down to them. But without innovators like Yonego showing how a simple change can have long-term economic and cultural impact, the Netherlands will continue to fall back on its old ways, and as a result, won’t come close to the social innovation of Scandinavian countries and the economies of its greater European partners.