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Architectus
Insight paid parental leave policy

Celebrating three years of paid Parental Leave

We are proud to celebrate the anniversary of an important milestone at Architectus. Three years ago, the Architectus Board tabled a bold decision for the time and introduced paid parental leave. In 2018, only 47 per cent of Australian companies with more than 100 employees offered a paid primary carer’s benefit, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. “Architectus had grown to a substantial size, so we reflected on what benefits mattered, both to current team members and prospective ones, and we looked at best practice outside of our industry,” says Ray Brown, CEO.

On top of the paid Government scheme, Architectus offers primary carers 16 weeks of leave at full pay and secondary carers four weeks of leave at full pay. A part pay option is also available to extend the payment period. If a primary carer opts to take unpaid leave, their superannuation contributions continue for up to 36 weeks, which is a fantastic benefit given the impact that taking time out to raise children can have on a superannuation balance. In addition, Architectus also offers a return-to-work bonus to help with the ongoing financial responsibilities of raising a family.

For Barry Aarons, COO, “The most important thing was to ensure our staff felt supported through the life-changing experience of becoming a parent. To be able to hit pause on their career and focus on their child without financial stress was a gift we wanted to give because once that time is gone, it’s gone.”

So far, Architectus has paid 507 weeks of parental leave to the 46 employees, or roughly 12 per cent, who have accessed the paid leave benefit since its launch. To break it down, 35 have taken primary carer leave – 21 mothers and 14 fathers – and 11 fathers have taken secondary carer leave. Most have returned full-time or on a flexible work arrangement and continue to progress their careers.

For Ray Brown, one of the policy’s most significant achievements is normalising parental leave and flexible working for men. “There was a strong message from the young fathers at Architectus. They wanted to spend time with their young family and work part-time to maintain their careers while taking on a more involved parenting role as their partner pursued their own careers on a full-time basis.”

Expanding on this, Ruth Wilson – Principal and Melbourne Studio Leader – says, “One way to close the gap for women – in terms of career progression into top leadership roles – is to normalise the experience of taking long parental leave and working part-time. As more men experience these things, the general appreciation of life’s choices and demands increases in our workplace, ultimately leading to more shared understanding and support.”

Architectus has had several fathers opt to take the primary benefit, and since the coronavirus pandemic more fathers have requested flexible work arrangements, wanting to achieve a more balanced family life.

We caught up with some of our parents who have recently taken leave, and they shared their experiences.

Michael became a primary carer

Michael Hsu – Architect in Melbourne – took a total of six months’ parental leave, which he calls a “precious opportunity for his family”. While Michael was at home with his daughter, Amelia, his wife returned to her role as a successful Architect and continued to pursue her career.

“The best thing,” says Michael, “were the challenges and joys a primary carer experiences each day.” This boosted Michael’s parenting confidence and tested his resilience. He gained a newfound endurance and patience that he now applies to his professional life. Michael thoroughly enjoyed his one-on-one time with Amelia, developing a stronger bond and foundation to build on for the rest of their lives.

The leave afforded Michael the opportunity to travel with his family to their native New Zealand to give Amelia time with her grandparents and an introduction to the nature and culture. As a result, her first nursery rhyme was Tēnā koe, the Maori ‘Hello’ song.

Sarah feels grateful

The first few months as a new mother have been, in certain ways, exactly what other mothers had told Sarah Couper, Content Writer and Editor in Adelaide, to expect.

“Sleep is precious; household tasks and life administration pile up; the pendulum of my emotions swings haphazardly between anxiety and joy.” But in other ways, motherhood has been full of the simplest surprises. “Our happiest days are quiet and slow, spent watching our girl’s world expanding, little by little, as new revelations and understandings take place, and her gentle character emerges.”

Sarah feels incredibly lucky to have this time with her daughter. “The generous policy, and the knowledge that I will be welcomed back into an encouraging and flexible workplace, have allowed me the security I need to cherish this time.”

Hugh finessed the work-life balance

In January 2021, after four months of parental leave, Hugh Veale – a Senior Team Member in Melbourne – returned four days a week. His balance of working two days in the studio and two days from home is working well. He is engaged with his work but can also collect his daughter from day care, which is “his favourite time of the day”. On his day off, Hugh takes 15-month-old Abby to swimming lessons, which he cherishes. The break from day care also gives her a chance to catch up on sleep. The flexible work arrangement has allowed Hugh and his family to adjust as he transitioned into life as a working father.

Jennifer balances parenting and full-time work

Jennifer Husman, a Senior Associate in Sydney, returned to the studio after six months on parental leave. Having missed the robust design discussions with her colleagues, she was excited to return to her role and advocates for new mothers who want to return to their careers full time. Having choices and a supportive environment is an important part of what Architectus wants to foster. Her 18-month-old son delights his grandparents, who have a great time caring for him a couple of days a week.

On her return, Jennifer had no idea what to expect but has a great support network and understanding colleagues. Being from the United States, she finds the Australian approach to parental leave “very empowering”. To maintain her job while having the life-changing experience of raising her son made her feel “even more loyal” to Architectus.

 

Ruth Wilson remembers thinking in 2018 that change was needed, for our team members and the industry. “At the time, there was a reasonably even split of males and females below the Associate level, however there were noticeably fewer females progressing to more senior roles, largely because women stepped away from their careers as they become mothers.” Ruth, a mother herself to a son, has observed over her 20-year career with Architectus. “Without a paid parental scheme, it was far more challenging for parents – particularly women – to balance the responsibilities of their family and work at a large design practice.”

Three years into the policy, we are glad to see that our parental leave benefits have encouraged a holistic work culture. Parenting and working can coexist and parents are afforded the time to start and nurture their family. A career is a marathon not a sprint, and we want to be part of the team that gets people to their finish line, whatever that looks like.

The senior leadership team are now turning their eye to what they can do to build on this great foundation and continue to support parents to have fulfilling careers and a family life balance at all levels.