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[Interview] Nicolas Brien, CEO of France Digitale: "Companies must be actors of social progress"

While the political classes were still debating at the end of 2020 on the duration of the future paternity leave, more than 350 French companies agreed on the charter of the Parental Act. Explanations with Nicolas Brien, CEO of France Digitale.

At the beginning of 2020, companies came together around the "Parental Act", a charter which offers another vision of second parent leave. Can you tell us more ?

The Parental Act brings together more than 350 signatory companies , including Back Market, BlaBlaCar, Leetchi ... These companies have made three commitments around the creation of second parent leave . Firstly, this leave therefore concerns the second parent regardless of their sex and status. The goal is to be able to marry all family models. Then, this leave takes place over at least four weeks: this is the minimum time to welcome a child and establish balanced and fair family habits. Finally, he must be paid 100%, because the financial criterion should not be a determining criterion to be a parent present.

At France Digitale, we are pushing for our 1,800 start-ups to tackle the subject.

What is the goal ? To strive more towards gender equality?

Today we see that there is a deficit, even an imbalance, in this woman-man relationship at work . This imbalance is essentially reflected in wage inequalities . But when we look for the root of it, we often see that everything has its origin at the time of the birth of a child ...

Paternity leave as such is not enough?

The current paternity leave is very brutal. There are in total, put end to end, 14 days which do not allow anything. This period of time is extremely short! Likewise, it begins from the birth of the child. However, it is also necessary to take into account the pre-birth : it is necessary that the balance be done before this day of the birth. Paternity leave was thought of as a time when the father accompanies the mother. In reality, we do not ask the father to assist the mother, but to be equal in his role of parent . The Parental Act proposes a radical change in the way of looking at things. The father becomes as much an actor in parenthood as the mother.

However, in its Social Security Funding Bill 2021, the government plans to extend its duration ...

Paternity leave should not only be extended: it should be aligned . In an ideal world, maternity and paternity leave would no longer exist and each of the parents would have parental leave of the same duration .

Parenthood is the search for a balance between parents and the unborn child. This balance is found both before birth and after. As long as paternity leave is less than maternity leave, this will de facto unbalance the couple, pushing women an enormous volume of mental burden.

You yourself have experienced a six-week paternity leave for the birth of your child. What is your view on this period?

I felt incredibly lucky to have six weeks to learn how to live with my new family. And I also felt incredibly helpless the day I had to go back to work while my wife was at home. I felt like I was deserting: I left at home a whole load of work that I should also have done.

So it is a question of real social progress to defend?

For companies, this equates to acting in a civic manner . They cannot just watch social progress go by: they must be actors in it. We must move towards a society where a father who would not make himself available when his child is ill would be looked down upon by his colleagues. Today, this is not yet the case.

Through the Parental Act, companies bear witness to a certain number of values ​​that they want to carry in society. Yes, we must mobilize for climate change, but we must not forget the social impact that companies can have.

Does the Parental Act include other strong measures?

The Parental Act must be seen as the first stone of an evolution of managerial culture . Such initiatives make it possible to send very strong signals: managers show their teams that this managerial culture adapts to take better account of the pro-personal life balance . Moreover, what we have experienced with confinement should serve as a lesson.

The telework by definition blurs the barrier between personal life and professional life. Good managers are those who will know how to get used to teleworking and be able to understand the family and personal life of their employees, without encroaching on it. Teleworking has, in my opinion, the capacity to shatter the culture of the little chef. It requires, on the part of the manager, to have confidence, to no longer be in the direct control of the employees.

Teleworking allows you to regain control over your daily working time . If I am a parent and I have to log out at 4 p.m. because I have to pick up my child from school (even if it means going back to work after dinner), I can do it. To do this, the manager must have a culture which favors autonomy and which allows this type of decision.

Is it also about emphasizing a right to disconnect?

The right to disconnect certainly exists, but I am frustrated by the ongoing inter-professional negotiations on teleworking. These negotiations are carried out by employers 'unions and workers' unions and they do not succeed. One of the reasons is that we did not bring all the stakeholders around the table. It would have been interesting to also have associations of parents of pupils, for example, or associations of public transport ... Because teleworking will encourage quite profound rebalancing between family life and professional life. If the unions see very well what we are talking about when it comes to professional life, they are not necessarily the most qualified to talk about the family life of employees.

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