By now I guess most readers will be familiar with the fact that Sweden provides extensive paternity leave, which in my case has predominantly been spent abroad as I’m a Swedish diplomat. One frequently cited concern that I hear from many dads is the fear that taking paternity leave will be detrimental to their career prospects. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago my oldest son helpfully pointed out that I shouldn’t expect a raise this year, “frankly, dad, you’ve hardly been at the office at all!” Thankfully my boss did not agree, but it did reaffirm my desire to address this concern.
I figured it would be good to hear more about someone else’s experiences on this topic. I felt that Eddie would be particularly well-suited to address these concerns as he has worked in the typically male-dominated tech industry, as well as in start-ups, that might find it more difficult to deal with prolonged absences on the part of their employees. As an added benefit, speaking to Eddie will broaden our geographic perspective; after hearing about my travails in Latin America and Southern Africa our readers now get to hear about Eddie’s stint in Taiwan, including visits to South Korea and China.
Q. How long did you take paternity leave for and where did you spend it?
A. I took seven-months leave and we decided to visit my wife’s family in Taiwan, which enabled my son Takeshi to strengthen his bonds with his maternal grandparents. We also did some traveling in the region and headed to South Korea and Shanghai in China.
Q. What was it like to be on paternity leave in Taiwan?
A. We found the general atmosphere to be very child-friendly. Families eat out all the time in Taiwan and restaurants tend to have great kids menus. They’re very understanding of noisy children, in fact, when my son was throwing a fit the staff would volunteer to take care of him while we ate! We found the same to be true for other places, for instance, we visited a lot of museums, which worked out fine.
Both my wife and I were on parental leave at the time. In Taiwan, people had no difficulty understanding that she was on maternity leave and thought it was completely natural. I got more bemused reactions when pointing out that I was taking paternity leave, a common one was “wow, you must be a millionaire to be able to take so much time off work!”. I felt inclined to clarify that for Swedes being on paternity leave is very much run-of-the-mill even for non-millionaires.
Q. How did it affect your professional prospects?
A. At the time I was working at a start-up with just 14 employees. My boss had previously been on paternity leave himself and both he and my colleagues saw it as completely natural that I’d go on leave after my son was born.
Start-ups have some particular challenges in this regard, as it tends to be difficult to replace an employee that goes on leave (although it is the Swedish government that covers the actual costs of parental leave). Right before going on leave, I was in charge of new partnerships, and in this role, I was able to set-up new collaborations right before leaving which meant I had managed to meet the objectives that we had set-up. In practice, this meant that I had made myself redundant but this turned out to be a boon rather than a curse, as when I returned I was effectively promoted to Product Manager. I was also able to strengthen our relationships with key contacts and potential customers for consultancy assignments by taking some in-person meetings while I was traveling during my leave. In fact, it seems that my contribution to the company became more apparent when I was not there, as when I returned my boss gave me one of the best salary hikes that I’ve ever gotten, even though I had been away for most of the year.
It’d be hard to pinpoint any drawbacks from a career perspective. It is not as if an additional seven months of work a few years ago would make any difference to my career now. On the contrary, the fact that it enabled me to live in a different country is something that has actually benefited me career-wise, notably by improving my language skills. In addition, being on leave enabled my wife to train for her dance-career which also served to boost her prospects.
Q. What has taking paternity leave meant for you over the long-term?
A. The key benefit has definitely been that going on leave strengthened my bond with my son. Being able to spend a lot of time together early in his life has been crucial for our relationship.
Traveling together also brought us closer and it has also made both of us open to new perspectives and experiences. This has tangible benefits in our everyday lives, for instance, that we can go out to restaurants with food from different parts of the world, which he is more than happy to try.
In fact, this has also been beneficial to my career as I get inspiration from our discussions as he often comes with creative suggestions. When I was recently preparing a presentation about how to spur creativity, Takeshi suggested I’d lighten things up by making the travails of Curious George a running-theme for the topics that I wanted to bring up, which was very well received by the audience.
In the future, I’d like to further my career by working abroad. Whenever I bring this up at home, my son is always eager for us to live in a different country or even continent. If we hadn’t gone abroad early in his life I’m sure he’d be more reluctant to do so now. So I definitely feel that taking paternity leave has given us a strong base for the future.
You may also like these articles from Bébé Voyage: