Dr. Ricarda Engelmeier (she/her)

Parents need to engage in a real dialogue about the sharing of parental leave and care work and the planning of both careers.
Who are you and what do you do?

I’m from Munich and founded MyCollective in Munich – a program that aims to make it easier for executives to return to work after parental leave. I had the idea for MyCollective when I was on parental leave with my third child. I had my first two children when I was in India with GIZ. So, I didn’t have the classic one-year parental leave until my third child. At that time, I met many women and men around me who were asking themselves the same question as I was, namely: How do you make a good return to work after a year at home with the child? Some have been at home for five or even ten years, so it’s virtually impossible to get back into the original position. With MyCollective, I wanted to help all these talented people return to work with confidence.

What does diversity mean to you?

I want to live in a society where women and men have equal rights and can live fully according to their potential, no matter where they come from or who they are. If we can contribute to that with our work, I’m happy. At MyCollective, we are always showing new stories that change is possible, that there are many positive examples, and that equality and diversity create a better outcome for everyone in the end.

How exactly does MyCollective support parents?

We support executives during their re-entry after parental leave. On the one hand, we create networks for parents so that they can support each other and give each other self-confidence: After all, parental leave is not a “break” but a time when executives learn important new skills – prioritizing things, for example. In principle, parental leave is a kind of “master”, an additional qualification. We have developed training that shows young parents the parallels between the skills they have acquired during parental leave and leadership skills. Role models and inspiration from other program participants are another important component. On the other hand, we want to have a preventive effect in the companies and have offers to raise awareness among managers. We have also developed an app that enables companies to stay in touch with employees who leave for several years. Companies also benefit from our work: After all, nothing is as expensive as losing a trained specialist or manager in our employee market because they decide to join another company after their parental leave or even stay away from the job market altogether. In addition, we are increasingly living in a world in which non-diverse service providers are less in demand or commissioned.

What are the main problems parents face when they return?

Most return to work first and then realize that they can no longer work full-time or at least need more flexible working hours. We need to rethink work and leadership: we need new leadership cultures, home office and part-time options, especially for managers. Unfortunately, the tandem model, in which two part-time executives share a job, is still a rarity. We must dare to roll out such job-sharing models on a broad scale!

Are companies to blame for the career downturn?

Not only. Women still bear the brunt of care work. Especially after the second child, many don’t return to work. Even in our program, there are still significantly more mothers. But we don’t want to be a women’s network, we want to be a parents’ network. After all, it only works together: parents need to enter into a genuine dialog about the distribution of parental leave and care work and the planning of both careers. This is essential for a satisfied family life in the long term. After all, today both mothers and fathers have an interest in seeing their children when they are awake. A lot still needs to happen here in Germany. We have great role models who inspire and motivate others in our community. Basically, I’m very positive about the future!

How do we achieve more equality?

My theory is that we could achieve a great deal if women and men took equal parental leave. In Germany, most fathers take two months, if that: one at birth and one for joint leave. The real work is left to the mothers. So, fathers take on less responsibility and care work from the beginning; there is less bonding and commitment because the woman takes care of everything from the start. All parents know that it is only from the moment children come into the world that you start to learn what children need and how to take care of them. Before that, no one knows. But if only one of the two learns this from the beginning, it will last a lifetime.

Should parental leave be divided equally by law?

I think so. In Canada, that’s how it’s regulated: Both parents must take the same amount of parental leave, otherwise it expires. If we had a similar interpretation in Germany, women would also be less discriminated against in the workplace because all genders would be affected, so it would be a universal issue. At the same time, care work could also be distributed more fairly in the medium to long term, because the foundation for equal parenthood would be laid right from the start. Both parents would have the chance to become “care work professionals” while still on parental leave.

Where do you find yourselves reaching your limits as a family?

[Laughs]. With the first two children, we still had to learn a lot. At first, we automatically fell into the old role models. With the third child, we coordinated better and distributed the tasks more clearly. In the end, the most important thing is to talk to each other and stay in touch. We are both active parents and contribute the part of the family work with which we can make the greatest contribution. Is it exactly 50/50? I don’t think so (always). In the end, it’s important to keep reflecting together on where certain patterns and role models come from, so that you don’t keep falling into the old traps, but try to do better. Strong role models are always helpful here, but they are very rare, at least in the media. That’s why it’s so difficult to bring about change. But more and more parents are working just like we are to break through traditional role models and narratives and thus initiate lasting change.

How can people support you?

We are always looking for exciting role models who would like to give workshops or talks in our programs. More about us here

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