Arrived at Singapore airport today and was greeted by a smiling local official. Checking our passports he noticed we were from Sweden. ‘Aaah, Sweden!’ he said. ‘Abba and Celine Dion!’ He then proceeded to serenade us with ‘Chicatita tell me wass wron’. Welcome to Singapore!
It’s common knowledge that Sweden has one of the world’s best systems for paid leave in connection with the birth of a child – thirteen months parental leave which can be shared between both the parents. The payment received is equivalent to about 80% of salary up to a certain level.
Now, Swedish company Spotify has announced an upgrade to this system for employees working in their company. Parents at Spotify are allowed to take free time, or parental leave, for 6 months at full pay. This is for either parent so is not gender, or role, specific. When the employee returns to work, there is also a ‘welocme back’ month where they can work part-time and from home to ease themselves back into the workplace and from their infant. The great thing about this is that it’s not just Sweden. It’s GLOBALLY! For all employees everywhere in the world.
It’s great to see private organisations taking responsibility for their employees. The government and the tax payer can only do so much, if they even do anything at all. The Head of HR at Spotify says
“This policy best defines who we are as a company, born out of a Swedish culture that places an emphasis on a healthy work-family balance, gender equality and the ability for every parent to spend quality time with the people that matter most in their lives.”
Reading on social media recently, I am struck by the amount of praise given to Sweden’s Home Secretary, Anders Ygeman. The minister is appearing a lot in newspapers and on the TV at the moment commenting on the tragic events of Paris and the impact terrorism has on the increasing security levels on Swedish soil. He also regularly informs the public on the refugee situation and the political reasons behind the government’s actions to reintroduce border controls.
On the face of it, Anders Ygeman should not be considered a good communicator. He has a very gentle, apologetic manner. He avoids eye contact at times. He speaks with a very quiet voice and a very flat tone. He is, in fact, the opposite of everything that a leader is said to be – inspiring, charismatic and energetic. In the USA, or the UK, he would probably be ridiculed. But in Sweden, it seems to work.
From a cultural perspective, this is really interesting. What is it about Anders Ygeman that works so well in Sweden? Maybe it is a case of content over packaging. Often how we say something has more impact than what we say, but in Anders Ygeman’s case, it’s the opposite. He might not be charismatic, but he is clear and very direct. And is this an approach that Swede’s prefer in times of crisis – a no frills, humble and direct communication?
A month or so ago, I bought a little model of Sweden’s Queen Silvia. Brandishing a handbag which encloses a solar panel, the energy from the sun is supposed to make her wave She’s been standing on my window ledge for a while now in direct light. But for the last few days, that queen isn’t waving. Her hand remains still. Royally poised. But nothing happens. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Ingenting.
It’s a clear indication of the lack of sunlight we’ve had in Stockholm recently.
So little that the queen herself protests.
Last night I went to a performance of ‘Cabaret’ at Stockholm’s ‘Stadsteatern’. Starring popular singer, Sarah Dawn Finer, the story never felt more relevant. Set in and around the decadent Kit Kat Club, the familiar story depicts the slow and insidious growth of Nazism in pre-war Germany. As Hitler’s politics start to become more accepted, life initially goes on as usual inside the nightclub. But slowly, even the performers cannot ignore the hardening attitudes, the anti-semitism and what is necessary to survive. As the Nazis rise to power, and ‘Germanness’ falls into focus, the characters have to make a choice: stay or go.
One of the main characters is an American author based in Berlin. As he is confronted by the rise of Nazism he stands up against it saying ‘if you don’t stand against it, you stand with it’. Somewhat remniscent of a US President in a speech against terrorism, this hit a raw nerve. Just because we are not actively and vocally against something, does it really mean that we are for it? Is it that black and white?
As right-wing politics yet again take hold in Europe, what can we learn from the past? If we stand by and say nothing, do nothing, are we in effect accepting it? Are we saying it’s ok? And if we don’t stand up for others, who will stand up for us when we need it?
In the musical Cabaret, we see the nightclub as a metaphor of Berlin, slowly falling more and more under the influence of dark powers. We see the characters numb themselves in alcohol and we see one main character bend to the norms of society by demonstratively removing his makeup – stripped of his uniqueness and his humanity.
Never has it felt more relevant than today. ‘You are not German’ is today expressed as ‘You are not European‘ or ‘You are not Swedish’. And as I was consumed in the musical, I thought to myself, can we do it differently this time? Can we beat the negative forces in society and come out of it victorious? Or are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past?