Ede and Sten Tamkivi – fearlessly breaking stereotypes

Both women and men, entrepreneurs and employees in startups and large corporations, are trying to find and improve work-life balance. Although society has become more modern and open-minded, and strict gender roles have begun to disappear, or at least the boundaries have blurred, statistics show that we still have a long way to go. What are these outdated stereotypes, how do they affect people's daily lives, and what could be done differently?
These questions will be discussed in the sTARTUp Day podcast over the next five months with Estonian startup heroes and their partners. Ede and Sten Tamkivi – spouses, entrepreneurs, and parents of four children – are the first to share their experiences of balancing work and family life.

Highlights in work and family life

Ede and Sten recall that the births of their children have often coincided with the beginning of some work-related challenge. "The first child was born when I had just joined Skype," explains Sten. "The third child was born when I last started a business, and with the arrival of the fourth child, Ede prepared to dive into working life by joining Vabamu." Before, Ede had stayed home with the children. With the fourth child, they decided to switch the roles. "With the first three children, we followed this traditional family model, but now Sten decided to stay home with the child," says Ede.
In 2019, 44,129 people went on parental leave in Estonia, of whom only 1,506 or 3% were men. Compared to ten years ago, the number of men staying home with a child has tripled, but the difference is still huge.
Ede and Sten admit that experience and self-confidence certainly play an important part, but at the same time, Sten had reached the right stage in life. "Men are often rebuked for not taking the initiative to stay home with a child, but on the other hand, we as mothers do not give them that opportunity to take the initiative," says Ede. "It takes courage on both sides."

Reactions filled with surprise

They also talked about surprising family-related questions from friends and colleagues, embellishing and hiding the truth. Ede said that she has never had to hide anything about her family. But she gave an example of how she sometimes consciously plays a mind game of not mentioning that she has many children. "If it comes out later in a conversation, people are often very shocked, but it is rather positive."

Based on Sten's experience, he is sometimes expected to hide something. "A fairly common reaction is that when a father stays home with his child, he is asked, "What you are actually doing?". It is expected to be a smokescreen to start a new business or something like that." This gives rise to the stereotypical notion that mothers always stay at home with their children, and if done differently, it is a signal that something is wrong.
According to Statistics Estonia, 43% of fathers used paternity leave in 2008, but in 2019 already 58% used it. Before, it was possible to take ten working days of paternity leave, but from 1 July 2020 fathers are entitled to 30 days of paternity leave!
Such a reaction from society and historical stereotypes create the precondition that women have to stay at home, and as a result, they (sub)consciously choose safer jobs, which is why the pay gap is higher. "Women simply accept roles with historically lower incomes, such as social and educational backgrounds, and it's hard to break out of it," says Ede.

Complications in the ICT sector

There is a recent trend for women to leave the ICT sector. According to a European Commission study, the annual productivity loss for the European economy of women leaving their digital jobs to become inactive is calculated to be about EUR 16.2 billion. And while female-owned startups are more likely to be successful, there is a decrease in participation, leadership, and investment in the entrepreneurial digital sector. According to Startup Estonia, only 15% of the founders of startups in Estonia are women.

To break out of outdated concepts and promote diversity, it is important to talk openly about these issues and accentuate good examples. "There are two main approaches here: positive examples must be highlighted, and initiatives with an undertone of slight positive discrimination, such as the Unicorn Squad initiated by Taavi Kotka, will certainly help," explains Ede. Sten adds that there are always those who criticize such initiatives, but he doesn't understand such an approach. "The more smart entrepreneurs we have in society who can realize their position, the stronger society will become as a whole. And it's not a zero-sum game, that if a girl succeeds in business, it doesn't mean that a boy will lose something. The world is big enough for both to succeed."

Cover photo by Elina Kostabi
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