Share the Joy: Inspiring a more equal approach to parental leave at Oliver Wyman

By: Christian Edelmann

When Julian, our first child, was born in December 2016, my wife Florence and I decided we would both take time off. She took six months away from her job in banking and I took two months leave from my job as a management consultant.

While my employer, Oliver Wyman, has various flexible working schemes in place, in reality mothers still take more time off than fathers. For me, taking more than the standard two weeks paternity leave was not only a way to support Florence and bond with Julian, but also a means to raise awareness of parental leave options. I wanted to show what is possible, regardless of how senior or junior you are. Normalising a more equal approach to parental leave can help support talented employees better balance their family responsibilities and careers, and could start to level the playing field between genders. Ultimately, this can help businesses retain more women and enable them to reach more senior leadership positions.

Getting parental leave ‘right’ for me meant switching off entirely. I did this by handing over all internal responsibilities and being transparent with clients about my absence. I also disabled access to work emails to remove any temptation to check in.

My first month away from work overlapped with Florence’s last month of maternity leave. We rented a house in Cornwall. Being away from home helped me switch off and focus on what was important: building a strong bond with Julian. I quickly learned that happiness in parenthood is having a good sleeper and a good eater – luckily Julian is both. So while Julian made life easy for us, I still had to learn how to be more patient and slow down. Instead of the highlight of my day being solving a client’s business problem, it became Julian’s face when we started weaning him and he first tried a tiny piece of fruit, and when he started to hold his milk bottle on his own. Seeing him grow day by day was truly unforgettable.

When Florence returned to work, I was prepared for caring for Julian but not the challenge of juggling all the other aspects of parenthood that Florence had been taking care of: sterilising bottles, stocking up on nappies, and washing baby grows. Having been through this, now that we are both back at work we fully share all chores – I can no longer use my old excuse “I don’t know how this works”!

Julian and I spent a lot of father-son time together, like long afternoon walks exploring nature. Remembering how much I looked forward to seeing photos from back home when I travelled for work, I sent Florence pictures as often as I could, sharing the day’s experiences and adventures. Now, as well as having built a strong connection with my son, I also enjoy a stronger relationship with Florence as a team of parents.

With more employers offering a wider range of parental and adoption leave options, I hope more couples can feel empowered to share early-years childcare responsibilities. From my experience with Julian, I certainly can’t recommend it enough.

Christian Edelmann is a London-based Partner, Head of Corporate & Institutional Banking and Wealth & Asset Management practices at Oliver Wyman and the global sponsor for their women’s network.