Rosie Leake and Elena Casa / Parental Leave  / 
Burden of Change

story / Guest Story / May 7, 2022

Diversity and Inclusion is so significant to a construction company’s bottom line that it has reached ‘buzz word’ status in every phase; from recruitment to tender. Companies in all tiers jump at the opportunity to have people of diversity (particularly women) front and centre in their promotional photos, org charts, panels, recruitment days, guest lectures and social media. But behind these glossy photos and marketing catch phrases the construction industry is hiding a dark secret, which impacts anyone who may wish to raise the next generation of legends.

We simply do not acknowledge, support, re-integrate, or adequately financially reimburse parents or guardians through our collective parental leave policies.

One of my (Rosie’s) earliest memories of biology limiting rage was in my first year working part time while studying. All of twenty-one, I was researching a paper on recruitment and retention of women in construction, gathering lived experiences from peers and industry leaders. It was baffling to learn that while recruitment was on the up, there were huge drop-offs at middle or upper management levels. Digging a little deeper, one person went as far to say ‘all the women left to have babies.’

I remember wondering why their careers and space in the industry died with the first breath of a tiny human. Whether this was their decision or something they were pushed into? And if I was getting a preview into mine and my peer’s future.

It goes without saying, but the impacts are disproportionately directed at women, especially ambitious, driven women. The biological clock starts ticking louder and faster right around the middle of your career, where many of us are striving for new challenges and opportunities. Unlike our male counterparts, in seeking these new paths; biology and guilt play a significant part;

Biology because in a traditional family structure, it is the body of the woman who bears the brunt of pregnancy, labour and early child rearing.

Guilt because society, employers, families, peers and partners send us conscious or subconscious messages about the traditional path of woman, the associated expectations, necessary sacrifices and implied commercial burdens.

The scramble to find a path of professional growth becomes less about seeking out and collecting any and all career opportunities and more about filtering the employment pool based on parental leave policies, duration of service, and a particular role’s likely impacts on your home life. We can’t tell you how many women are stuck in unfulfilling roles, putting their careers on hold while they hope to start or grow their families. Or the amount of men who are forced to be on call from hospital, back to work the next day and accessible to the site team in those early precious moments.

Since putting the feelers out for policies in research for this piece, countless people have responded with requests for other policies, hoping to gauge the viability of job opportunities or context for their current entitlements.

We think it is a damn shame that there are vast differences between the best and the worst policies in our industry. That the potential list of employers drops a third when you disregard those who have no policy at all, and another third when one considers poor language and entitlements for both primary and secondary carers.

Choosing to share 50% of your DNA should mean you have the ability to take primary carer leave. Many parental leave policies still push the narrative that women need to bear the burden of “primary care”. The undertone of this messaging is that male careers are more important than their female partners (in heteronormative relationships). Organisations should be normalising and encouraging men to take leave to support their families. The benefits reach beyond sharing parental responsibility and the financial burden; it promotes a stronger bond between fathers and children and has positive impacts on men’s mental health. Not to mention that providing equitable and generous parental leave policies leads to attraction and retention of top talent.

When researching this article, we asked ourselves why many men don’t take the leave when it’s available? We found that a lot of it has to do with workplace culture in construction. Men don’t want to take primary carer leave as they don’t want to be seen as ‘sitting at home taking a holiday.’ There is also an outdated mentality of ‘back in my day we didn’t, so why should you?’ It’s almost as if not bonding with your children is some kind of badge of honour. Of all the men we have worked with in the construction industry (and there are many), only a very small handful took the opportunity to spend the first weeks and months with their children. Those that did had only positive things to say about their experiences.

The elephant in any room is the gender pay gap.

In traditional relationships, males are more often than not the breadwinner (thanks, gender pay gap). Wages, societal messaging and the increasing costs of childcare, creates huge barriers for men when it comes to considering primary carer leave. We absolutely do not agree with the narrative that a woman’s salary must cover childcare costs in order for her to return to the workforce, but unfortunately society doesn’t align with us. This sentiment leads women to have prolonged interruptions to their careers or returning on a part time basis. In many cases this is not the preferred path for the individual, it’s just what suits society.

So…… What now? Initiate the conversation on parental leave with your colleagues, friends, HR departments and senior leaders. We all know the power of storytelling and the burden of change needs to fall on everyone if we are to have a ripple effect in industry. Reach out to us if you need any additional info or resources to back up your arguments, we would love to play a small part in changing the industries policies.

We have put together a handy list of items worth reviewing in every parental leave policy below:

  • Inclusive language – parental leave, primary and secondary carers (not ‘mother’ and ‘father’).
  • Inclusion of all types of parental / guardian relationships, including; adoption, surrogacy, IVF, fostering etc.
  • Acknowledgement of miscarriage, still birth, IVF, other complications and associated leave for these.
  • Accrual of Long Service Leave and Superannuation contributions whilst on Parental Leave.
  • Paid ‘check-in’ days.
  • Pay at salary rate (not the government mandated minimum wage).
  • Secondary carers leave for a minimum of 2 weeks, at salary rate (note: many companies are moving towards a month).
  • Option for Secondary Carer to be acknowledged as Primary Carer / entitled to Primary leave.
  • Return to work policies, role negotiation, flexibility, support services & infrastructure (pumping rooms etc.)
  • Pre-birth leave for any complications from pregnancy and relevant medical appointments.
  • Safety of site office / working conditions whilst pregnant.
  • Duration of service and entitlement to leave policy (these should be minimal, if any there are any duration requirements to access leave).

 

Rosie has been chewing everyone in her orbit’s ear off with ramblings about parental leave policies and their implications. She is incredibly thankful to all those people brave enough to share their stories, policies or thoughts on this divisive topic. We would love to do a follow up piece on the perils of returning to work following birth, if you have any thoughts or lived experience, we would love to hear from you! E & R xx

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