Earlier this month, David Cameron posed on the edge of the Baltic Sea in wintry Stockholm and wondered what Britain could learn from countries like Sweden to promote the number of British women in top jobs. As an expat on my second maternity leave in Sweden, I admire Cameron’s ambitions but question whether Britain is ready for the huge cultural changes this would entail.
Certainly, Swedish society does a great deal to support women at work and at home. Affordable (state-funded) child care makes it possible for many mothers to return to work, and the parental leave system encourages fathers to play an important role in raising their children. But would Mr Cameron be prepared to take on the eye‑wateringly high costs involved in implementing a Swedish-style system?
A recent study carried out by the human resource consultants, Mercer, has shown that only 28 per cent of senior employees in the UK are women – a figure that is much lower than many other European countries. This is due in part to “intentional discrimination” and women who prioritise child care being penalised.
Here in Sweden, however, there is a carefully structured and generously funded social security system that helps both parents take time off, and makes it easy to arrange child care. Imagine a country where each child is entitled to 480 days at home with their mother or father. Imagine a country where full-time child care costs £110 a month. Imagine a country where the state spends more on preschool child care than on its defence budget. Imagine a country where there are as many fathers at baby singing classes as mothers. Imagine a country where stay-at-home mothers are discouraged. Welcome to Sweden.