An increasing number of companies recognize the importance of balancing work and parenting

26 November 2019
Panel at the conference
Business Info Group

Belgrade, 22 November 2019 – Discrimination of working parents and future parents exists in the Republic of Serbia. However, companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of introducing incentives and measures to support working parents, it was agreed at today’s “Family-Friendly Businesses” Conference organized by the Business Info Group, with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Information and in cooperation with UNICEF.  

Investing in family-friendly policies is beneficial for both children and women, as well as the corporate sector and the economy.

Well-designed support policies increase the participation of women in the labour force, economically empower families, stimulate the capabilities of children, incentivize job creation, and reduce inequality and poverty in society, as well as gender inequalities and stereotypes about the role of women and men in raising children.

Dr Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, Minister without portfolio, responsible for demography and population policy, reminded those present that less than 15 percent of the population is under the age of 15, and that the national population policy has recognized that as its priority.

“Every fifth child in Serbia has some developmental delay and early interventions can prevent major problems in the future”, Dr Djukic Dejanovic said during  the conference’s first panel “Care about the family – shared responsibility of family, government and employer”.

“Good results will be observed in the next ten years. The fact that the Government has started connecting with non-governmental organizations, the academia, and local self-governments, of which each one has its own specific problem and demographic trends, indicates that we are on the right track”, said Dr Djukic Dejanovic.

UNICEF advocates for at least six months leave for both parents; safe and comfortable locations in public and working spaces for breastfeeding women; and universal access to quality and accessible childcare from birth until enrolment in school.

Regina de Dominicis, UNICEF Representative in Serbia, said that UNICEF advocates for a shift from maternal leave to parental leave. It is more important to focus on people, rather than on infrastructure.

“It is important not to discriminate against parents who are on parental leave and to provide them with continuous education, so they won’t be afraid that someone will take their place while they are on parental leave. The government, corporate sector and parents themselves must work together to achieve this,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Representative in Serbia. She stressed that research has shown that only such an approach brings investments, higher productivity and savings.

Regina De Dominicis added that bringing children to work can increase their understanding and tolerance towards the obligations of their parents, and that the business sector has become aware of this.

UNICEF advocates for a shift from maternal leave to parental leave.

“One additional month of parental leave drastically reduces child mortality; two additional months increase the quality of nutrition and reduce other health-related problems. Even though companies are focused on their profit and productivity, they increasingly recognize that facilitating parental leave helps them retain good employees and reduces the number of leave days”, Regina De Dominicis said.

Dr Milica Pejovic Milovancevic, Director of the Institute for Mental Health and an early childhood development expert, stated that society, institutions and employers must support parents, but so must their friends, colleagues and neighbours. Dr Pejovic Milovancevic believes that mental health is neglected in our society, and that there is no right answer to the question “whose role is it to support parents?”

Mental health is neglected in our society, and there is no right answer to the question “whose role is it to support parents?”

“Support for parents is missing. We, as a society, do not care enough about each other. When I treat children with disabilities or with health-related problems, I always ask the parents how they feel. Our main task is to make it easier for them not to carry their burdens alone”, Dr Pejovic Milovancevic concluded.

The Founder and Director of the Centre for Mothers, Jovana Ruzicic said that the negative birth rate is a multi-decade problem, and that the government highlights its efforts in this area, but only because “the election is getting closer”.

She went on to say that cash benefits cannot solve the problem. Couples base their decision to have children, not on the availability of cash benefits, but rather on the availability of a wider support network – better health-care and greater legal protection.

Jovana Ruzicic stressed that that members of her organization, who became entrepreneurs, often decided to take that step because of inflexible former employers.

Jelena Bozovic, from “Mali div”, an association for prematurely born children, said that their experiences are also negative, that some mothers cannot find any employment if they have small children or are planning a family.

She added that she, being a mother of four, is lucky to be working in a small company, which supports parents, but that she does not know what she would have done if her employer wasn’t supportive and if she wasn’t able to take parental leave.

“When I came back to work, I was afraid, but I also felt good because I wasn’t just a mum anymore. I was able to build my career”, Jelena Bozovic concluded.

UNICEF’s research from 2018 about the business sector has shown that 87% of respondents expressed the desire to introduce policies in companies that would enable the implementation of Children’s Rights and Business Principles.

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