Carlisle Homes overhauls parental leave in bid to modernise construction industry

Homebuilder aims to bulldoze the construction industry’s outdated attitudes to parental leave

Carlisle Homes overhauls parental leave in bid to modernise construction industry

A Victorian homebuilder has unveiled a significant overhaul of its parental leave package in a bid to bulldoze the outdated gender norms that have stymied Australia’s construction industry.

Carlisle Homes is taking bold steps to challenge the sector’s poor record on supporting women and families in the workplace, in part by increasing the paid leave allowance to 18 weeks for primary carers and four weeks for secondary carers. The company has also introduced a raft of other financial support mechanisms, such as superannuation payments during primary carer leave and a $6,000 return-to-work payment, as well as resources to support the wellbeing of new parents.

Speaking to HRD, Krista Hunt, Carlisle Homes’ general manager, people & culture, said she got a true picture of just how little parental leave policy and attitudes in the industry had changed while researching the topic as part of her MBA. As well as her own experience, it drove her to examine what mechanisms parents working in construction needed to feel supported in the workplace.

“We really want to create a ripple effect across the whole industry so it’s about changing things for generations to come, for both male and females,” she said. “The new policy is not just aiming to improve the situation at Carlisle, but sector-wide. It really is time for change within the industry.”

Read more: Rest super fund introduces 16-week equal paid parental leave

Hunt said the company wanted to be intentional in designing a holistic program that offered both financial and wellbeing support, rather than an off-the-shelf package. A [email protected] program will offer advice and resources to help fathers who want to take a more active role in family life. Carlisle’s EAP service has also been extended to any member of an employee’s family, widening the safety net through counselling and support services.

Carlisle has also created an onsite parent retreat at the new office building in Mulgrave and is trialling a co-funded school holiday program for primary school-aged children through a third-party provider.

Construction remains one of the country’s most male-dominated industries, with stagnant growth in female participation which currently sits at around 12%. A recent study by University of Sydney and Queensland University of Technology found the majority of business leaders in the industry are unaware about the negative impact of HR policies and practices on gender discrimination.

The study’s lead author, Dr Marzena Baker, said organisations in engineering construction are failing to capitalise on numerous performance gains derived from greater diversity.

“Although some women work in construction and building companies in Australia, very few are in management or leading roles,” she said.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Hunt, who said when it comes to the representation of women in senior roles, the industry is lacking.

“It goes hand in hand in that unless a male is going to spend more time in that initial period on parental leave, we’re not accommodating females back into the workplace,” she said. “I know that myself from my own experience when I was a young mum in a senior role in construction. It seems that someone has to choose their career, and typically it's men.”

Read more: Federal Budget 2021: $1.7bn childcare investment fails to tackle Australia’s gender inequality

Hunt acknowledged it will take more than clever policy to spark cultural change in the industry but she is proud to see Carlisle, and the company’s founder and MD John Doulgeridis, taking a big step in the right direction.

Leading from the top, training managers to start the conversation with their team and educating employees on the benefits of utilising parental leave will all contribute to encouraging take-up, especially among new dads. Shifting the dial on parental leave in male-dominated industries will be a cultural change, as much as a financial one. Hunt said she hopes to end the age-old attitude of dads “doing it tough”, instead encouraging them to access support when they need it.

“We're really wanting to create lasting benefit to all of the families associated with Carlisle,” she said. “For any new parent, whether they’re male or female, we want to wrap our arms around them and say ‘Hey we've got your back. We'll do whatever we can as an organisation to make this the happiest time possible for you’.”

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