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The Maternity Trap

January 24, 2017

It's 2017, men have been given paternity leave and the option to share parental leave but in reality is it ok for them to do it? And by ok, I don't mean legally. Whether implicitly said or not, company culture can pressure employees into making decisions that given a truly free choice, they wouldn't make.

 

And why is this important? It is important because the culture we create in the workplace for men around parental leave is vital for the culture created around parental leave for women. Something that in its current form, needs to change. Currently in construction, when a women tells her employer she is pregnant, she often gets the support she is looking for, regular meetings to see if she's ok and managing her workload, preparations are made to handover her work to whoever is covering her whilst on leave and then she goes off for her chosen time of parental leave. All of this is great!

 

The issue comes when she wants to come back. All too often, the construction industry talks the talk but that's where it stops. There seems to be a problem of "knowing what to do with women" when they return from maternity leave and this usually results in them receiving a demotion, too little to do on a day to day basis or they are ignored until they leave their job of their own accord.

 

The reality is that until we change the culture and encourage men to take leave to care for their children there will be an issue around women returners. The construction environment is such that there are clearly certain roles that can not be done on a part time basis. Something that often means sidelining of women who choose to come back part time. The nature of projects means that female project managers, construction managers, development managers etc struggle to do their job part time because they need to be available full time in order to make decisions and drive projects forward. It is not practical for these roles to be done on a part time basis as meetings, decision making and being on site to oversee project process cant be scheduled around the part time employee. This the nature of the role, rather than anything to do with gender but what isn't just the job is that other roles can be done on a part time basis, such as engineer, QS, trades and yet women are still demoted, given less responsibility and not really given the opportunity to do what they were previously considered capable of.

 

When only women are able to give birth, the Construction industry needs to assist in making the choice to have children easier to do alongside having a career. At a time where few people have the choice as to whether they return to work employers need to allow women to step back into their roles and take on what they did previously if that is what they want. To sideline a women returning from maternity leave does nothing other than undermine her confidence and ability and deprives companies of talent. In 2017, we should be giving women the support they deserve, the support that the men have had all along.

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