Norwegian politicians and large financial firms reacted strongly this week to revelations that many independent brokerage firms dissuade new fathers from taking parental leave. Conservative politicians criticized the smaller firms for their outdated attitudes, while the chief executive of DNB said new parents had a legal right to leave and should not be punished for taking it.
Norway has one of the most generous parental leave schemes in the world. From July 1, fathers were allocated at least 10 weeks to be taken in a period after their child was born. Previously, it was at least 14 weeks. This week the Progress Party’s (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) Children and Equality Minister Solveig Horne was due to release for hearing a recommendation for changes to make it easier for one parent to take on their spouse’s leave quota.
Before the election, finance industry association Finans Norge urged the incoming government not to meddle with paternity leave, arguing the workplace “wasn’t mature enough” for the father quota to be dismantled. An investigation by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv revealed that’s still the case – it found paternity leave, referred to in Norway as “pappaperm,“had not gained a foothold within large parts of the financial sector.
Interviews with brokers, managers and partners indicated that in many firms, on the rare occasion men did choose to take their full paternity leave, they were looked down upon and regarded as lacking in ambition. Among the independent brokerage firms, staff seldom took more than two weeks of pappaperm, while some agents reported they’d been offered bonuses of up to NOK 60,000 (USD 9,700) to drop their leave. Many of those who did take time off continued to work from home.
“To be away for six to eight weeks because you have a child is a little strange,” said Gaute Eie from ABC Sundal Collier.
“I have heard that some brokers are being bought out, and am sure that occurs,” said DNB Markets currency analyst and mother of two, Camilla Viland.
“I was not wanted back with open arms,” said one anonymous broker in an unnamed firm. “The price is high to be home with your children.”
Out of touch
“DN‘s articles on the attitudes to parental leave in the finance industry reveal unacceptable and outdated attitudes among employers in the finance sector,” said the Conservative’s (Høyre) parliamentary deputy, Nikolai Astrup. He pointed to the parts of the story claiming brokers were reporting paternity leave to work and social welfare organization NAV, while in practice working full time. “It is very problematic when employers actively sabotage and oppose those who actually want to take out some weeks of parental leave, at the same time as it facilitates and encourages social security fraud for the few who end up taking the leave.”
Astrup also argued it demonstrated a bias against women, who were underrepresented in the industry. “The independent finance houses are shooting themselves in the foot,” he said. “It is a known fact that women are more conscientious, get better grades and work more effectively than men. And this the finance industry says no to, because “it is a little strange” to be home for a few weeks when you have got children, as Gaute Eie puts it.”
Astrup took leave after the births of both of his children. “For me, the period at home was very valuable,” he told DN. “Like all other modern men, I’m keen to be with my children.”
He supported Horne’s proposal, saying better measures were needed to combat negative cultures than the statutorily earmarked paternity leave. “It’s positive that fathers are home with the child during the leave period, and for my part he can gladly be home longer than the 10 weeks the government has reserved for the father,” Astrup said. “Høyre’s main point is that we want to equalize parents’ rights as caregivers. That means that beyond the first six weeks after the birth, where for medical reasons it’s obvious that the mother should be at home, parents should be free to be able to distribute the leave between them.”
Trade and Industry Minister Monica Mæland of the Conservatives lashed out at employers who undermined the parental leave scheme by offering bonuses, and the bullying of staff who chose to spend time with their children. “I want the most optimal scheme,” she told DN. “How individual families choose to comply should be up to them, but I react to the fact that they who wish to take out a few weeks of parental leave risk facing sanctions in the work place.”
Possible to be a parent and a broker
DNB CEO Rune Bjerke said he did not see the culture DN reported on in his bank’s own brokerage house, DNB Markets. Staff were not offered bonuses in exchange for dropping their leave quotas. He said taking parental leave and still having a successful career was totally achievable in Norway. “DNB Markets generates results of NOK 1 billion per quarter – and that is with paternity leave,” he said. “I have not heard anyone claim that the brokerage is not among the best.”
“I think those who are leaders in DNB Markets see that three or four months over a long working life is a very short period,” Bjerke said. “I also think the leadership sees that you get something very positive back from being close to your loved ones in a very important phase of life. Technical skills and hard work over time often become better by also having the opportunity to live out some basic empathetic and emotional needs.”