Two years ago, the German government began an initiative to improve the quality of life for German families, especially working mothers. Recently, the group took stock of its work -- and gave itself good marks.
Family life can be picture-pefect -- if work and childcare is well integrated
The German Family Ministry and a group of German businesses say they are on the path toward improving family life in Germany.
Two years after her ministry founded the Alliance for Families, German Work and Family Minister Renate Schmidt addressed reporters in Berlin, saying family is becoming a "mega-topic" in politics and the media.
"Change in perspective"
"We have succeeded. There is a change in perspective, a change in politics, and a change in overall attitudes," Schmidt said. The alliance, which groups government, business, unions and non-profit agencies, said it had helped to bring the issue of family needs to the forefront of public discussion.
"The alliance ... has shown people that it is possible to combine work and family and how young people can find the courage to start families," a joint statement released by the family ministry and the German Chamber of Commerce said.
The statement said the alliance's long term goal is to support lasting policies that are family friendly, including the creation and support of family-friendly office environments and business culture. According to the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development, if the population rates don't increase, economic growth will sink in the European Union to beneath 1 percent by 2020.
Chamber of Commerce President Ludwig Georg Braun noted that more and more companies are recognizing the importance of being family-friendly. Companies often argue that they cannot afford additional costs for a family-friendly job environment. About 90 percent of all German companies have less than 20 employees and therefore cannot create day care centers or kindergartens on their own.
But, Braun said, they can learn from the experience of businesses who have introduced family-friendly services for their employees. He cited two alliance initiatives that were making a difference.
"One is in Lüneburg where all medium- and small-sized companies organized themselves and said they wanted to agree ... to promise jobs to young families," he said. "So they can continue to work knowing that even if they have children it wouldn't mean interrupting their career."
The second region is around Stuttgart, a region where companies have often have trouble finding qualified workers.
"They have organized services for young families that would help them while they have a family and pursue their career, to help ease the pressure on a young family if they have kids and are trying to work," he said.
Plans for the future include an Internet portal and a telephone hotline to help midsize companies and their employees balance work and family. They plan to post information on the Internet including suggestions for part-time job models, or information on creating office day care.
teacher with students
Schmidt said Germany should set an example of family-friendly work environment for the rest of Europe.
"I think we should regularly compare ourselves to other nations," she said. But she complained that it is often hard to come upon data related to families and child care, saying there is more data collected about the number and size of eggs than about children growing up in Germany.
Each month, the family ministry presents an award to a village or a town that is particularly committed to day care for children. And once a year the Alliance for Families awards a small- or medium-sized business, as well as a big corporation, for family-friendly company politics.