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Gender equality hinges on paternity leave

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, speaks on gender equality in the workplace

Fathers must be included in parental leave to improve equality for women, according to Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway.

Brundtland was prime minster of Norway three times between 1981 and 1996, and is now a member of the Council of Women World Leaders; an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers who aim to mobilise collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

Speaking at the UBS Future of the Workforce 2016 event, Brundtland explained that offering unequal parental leave enforces gender roles and leads to greater inequality. “Fathers need to be able to be part of family life, and part of a child’s upbringing,” she said.

“This way, when an employer is considering a female employee they will not be wondering if she will become pregnant next year. They will also need to wonder if a male employee will have a baby in the future.”

Brundtland stressed the economic benefits of achieving gender parity in the workplace. “According to IMF data, in the United Arab Emirates if the number of women in the workplace equaled that of men it could increase its GDP by 12%,” she said.”If Japan did the same its GDP would increase by 9%. In the US it would rise by 5%.”

Behavioural economics expert Nick Southgate, who also spoke at the event, explained that for companies to change their cultures they must engender a certain level of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

“If people are too content then they will resist change,” he explained. “But if they are too dissatisfied they will leave. You need to find a sweet spot where people are open to change, and will move with it.”

He added that companies that want to see real change must be accepting of failure. “You can’t expect people to take risks if they are scared of losing their job if it gets a bad result,” he said. “You should work to make failure a positive thing.”