The National Association of Women in Construction says supporting women during the parenthood stages of their career is vital to ensuring the construction industry can attract and retain a gender diverse workforce.
Parenthood is a complex journey, both personally and biologically. In Australia approximately one in every 18 pregnancies occurs via in vitro fertilisation (IVF). We are also seeing increases in same sex families, single parent families and parenting by fostering and adoption. Workplaces need to be aware that as society evolves, so does our understanding of the diversity of needs that parents and carers have.
Some of our The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) members are on the tools, either tradespeople or with hybrid roles that require them to work onsite during their pregnancy.
With the NAWIC Women on Tools committee in Queensland, we have created some resources to support those undertaking this journey. Whether you are thinking about starting a family, are an employer of a pregnant woman, or an onsite woman who is pregnant, the most important priority is ensuring clarity of communication and safety for all involved.
NAWIC Member stories
When Tess, a tiler by trade, was six months pregnant, her doctor advised her to go on light duties. Her employer worked with her to find suitable solutions during this time. Her light duties included overseeing apprentices and guiding them on jobs, quoting jobs, dealing directly with customers and invoicing.
Tess and her employer agreed that when she was ready to return to work, they’d discuss what duties she was able to perform, any changes in her hours and create a plan to get her back into her role.
This is a great example of a collaborative and respectful relationship between Tess and her employer. It prioritises Tess’s workplace safety and demonstrates positive and open dialogue between all parties.
Michelle Hands, a UK based engineer who spent considerable time onsite, became an internet sensation when she shared her workplace pregnancy journey. In her blog, Michelle wrote about the initial conversation she had with her employer.
“One day, at around 15 weeks, I plucked up the courage to tell my boss about my pregnancy,” said Michelle. “To my total surprise his reaction was so positive.”
He responded: “We need to make sure you take it easy onsite and how long would you like to work for?”
“I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” said Michelle. “Quickly the news spread, and, on that afternoon, I was treated like royalty.”
NAWIC Resources for Tradies and Babies
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is start a conversation, especially when it is on a topic or situation not normally encountered and you anticipate that it might be uncomfortable or even negatively received.
The NAWIC guide ‘Tradies and Babies’ covers everything from the initial conversation, throughout the pregnancy and post-birth – for both employees and employers (as well as self-employed people). Key topics addressed include the roles, responsibilities, rights and obligations of each party as well as systems that can be put in place to ensure employees are supported before, during and after pregnancy.
Needs of parents in construction-based workplaces
NAWIC held a ‘Shifting the Dial’ webinar event in October 2023. From the online survey conducted with the 100-plus attendees during the event, the respondents indicated the largest issue with encouraging women in the industry is retention. NAWIC understands and advocates for company-wide strategies which ensure women’s safety and job security in the construction industry, particularly for parents and carers. This can include flexibility around shift times and part-time work to better suit operating hours onsite.
NAWIC continues to work with both government and industry to ensure that the needs of our members are heard, and action is taken to improve the experiences of women in construction during the parenthood stage of their careers. The key areas of NAWIC’s advocacy for the retention of women in construction include improving access to childcare, as well as its flexibility and affordability, such as:
- Providers better aligning childcare options to suit onsite hours;
- Workplaces adjusting onsite hours aligned to childcare hours for parents;
- Ensuring access to portable parental and long service leave for all construction workers;
- Promotion in industry to encourage workplaces to create and support job share, part-time and work from home options.
Jayco, for example, has done amazing work in this space by creating four-hour shifts during school hours to address its labour shortage issues and importantly make the company a great place for women to work. Access to affordable childcare is another way we can address retention issues. Many state governments have this on the agenda, and we look forward to seeing childcare reforms in the coming years make a big difference to the cost equation of work and care.