If Construction Wants to Survive the Labor Crisis, Paid Maternity Leave is Non-Negotiable

Story by Gemma Beasley / January 23, 2024

As contractors sound alarms over skilled labor shortages, they repeatedly overlook a hidden asset – working moms. While women make up only 10% of the building trades today, according to industry groups, they represent a massive untapped opportunity amid tight labor conditions.

With strategic support like paid parental leave and schedule flexibility, builders can transform their biggest untapped talent pool into loyal, skilled teams for the long haul.

Parental leave gaps are glaring obstacles to attracting and retaining working parents. This impacts many working fathers too, of course. But for now we’ll focus on mothers, who are still disproportionately being made to choose between families and careers.

It’s Time Construction Welcomes Working Moms Into the Fold

While big tech firms boast enviable benefits like months of paid leave for new parents, construction lags sorely behind. Many builders lack clear maternity leave policies, fail to offer flexible scheduling for mothers, and perpetuate exclusionary “old boys club” cultures.

This is driving skilled women out of construction roles when they start families – a loss contractors can ill afford given labor market conditions.

Here are tangible ways builders can shift gears to welcome and retain working moms:

  • Institute a minimum 6 weeks paid maternity leave policy at full salary
  • Allow flexible return-to-work arrangements like gradual ramp-up of hours or work-from-home options
  • Create affiliate mentorship programs connecting working moms with female leaders
  • Offer subsidized childcare stipends and on-site children’s activity resources
  • Train managers on supporting new mothers and avoiding unconscious bias
  • Highlight women’s contributions in marketing materials to reinforce inclusion

The construction sector must overhaul outdated norms around working mothers, or risk missing out on skilled talent that could ease shortages. This means implementing family-friendly policies tuned to the workforce of tomorrow.

Federal Policy Sets an Abysmally Low Bar

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most construction employers must allow new mothers up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. But unpaid leave presents severe financial strains for many working-class construction families.

And while a handful of states have enacted paid family leave programs, the US federal policy still fails working parents and falls devastatingly short of standards in other developed nations. For example, new parents in the United Kingdom receive up to 50 weeks of leave, with 37 weeks paid at least 90% of salary. Countries like Sweden, Norway and Germany also guarantee over a year of paid time off for new parents.

Forward-thinking American construction firms must take matters into their own hands to remain competitive globally, and not rely on these unquestionably meager federal laws. Leading companies worldwide set a high bar for family benefits that proactive US builders should aim to match, or risk being left behind by those who do.

Paid Maternity Leave: A Small Price for Skilled Talent

Some old-school contractors balk at the costs of paid maternity leave. But the data shows losing experienced working mothers brings monumental turnover expenses. When you calculate recruiting, hiring and training a replacement, paid leave is relatively minor.

And that’s not even considering the intangible costs when institutional knowledge walks out the door. Employees on maternity leave only need to be temporarily covered. But when talented staff quit due to inadequate support, companies lose out on their expertise and productivity long-term.

Investing in paid parental leave also demonstrates that construction firms genuinely value women’s contributions. Providing equal family benefits for mothers and fathers is a powerful statement of inclusion.

When talented parents no longer need to choose between work and family, employers build fiercely loyal teams – uplifting the industry for the long haul. It should surprise none of us to learn that skilled workers who feel supported through major life events tend to stick around.

Motherhood Penalties are Pushing Women Out of Construction

Make no mistake, the construction industry desperately needs skilled women now, more than ever. But as motherhood penalties persist, women continue to report leaving jobs in male-dominated fields due to lack of flexibility for parenting.

Surveys and reports also show that a significant portion of skilled women quit their positions after having children due to inflexible policies or cultural biases against working moms. This isn’t just an issue for gender equality, but an urgent business problem too.

Construction firms are leaving talent on the table during a notable labor shortage. To survive, they must reshape cultures and policies to welcome and retain working mothers. Builders that adapt to support parenting needs will be better positioned to attract the best candidates.

In the battle for talent amid today’s shortages, paid parental leave policies separate the construction industry’s progressive leaders from its obsolete laggards. Builders clinging to outdated norms around working mothers do so at their peril.

Do you need help optimizing parental leave policies? Get in touch for strategic guidance tailored to construction industry staffing.


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