Rae Avatar Barnett: What are the benefits of offering enhanced parental leave?

When I recently had the pleasure of announcing Laing O’Rourke had taken the bold decision to be the first constructor to introduce a new equal parenthood policy, I thought it would get quite a reaction, but the level of excitement it has generated has been overwhelming. Nearly two months on people are still talking about it.

It has given me great pride to hear the reaction from our people, and it has been exciting to see the buzz it has caused across the industry. Announcing this enhanced benefit in such a male dominated industry appears to have surprised many, but the reaction just shows how needed the change actually is.

From 1 October, every employee across our business, including those in our technical trades, will receive six months’ parental leave on full pay. Our new equal parenthood policy applies to any gender, any birth, any child, and will be matched by additional benefits in line with local regulations and requirements in the countries in which we operate. Alongside our equal parenthood leave, we have also launched a new pregnancy loss policy that provides paid leave for any employee who has suffered, or whose partner or surrogate has suffered, a loss of pregnancy, allowing them the time they need away from work.

Our leadership team is acutely aware that our people are our greatest asset, and with 75% of employees in the UK having parental responsibility, now very rarely sitting with one parent, we recognised the huge proportion of people juggling their own careers with raising the next generation. As a family-owned business, this struck a chord with us, and we decided it was essential to create a more balanced approach that better supports a wide range of modern families and is more consistent with our organisational values of care, integrity and courage.

Committing to support employees through one of the most common and most disruptive life events will, we believe, boost morale and help create a more engaged, productive and loyal workforce. In the long-term, we are confident this will create value for the business as people do not forget how their employer supported them at critical times.

On a personal level, I am proud that no matter who you are or how a family comes about, whether that be through birth, surrogacy, or adoption, we will take care of an employee’s career while they do what needs to be done at home. Traditional types of parental leave have become outdated in a world that has and continues to change at pace. And we believe we need our people to thrive in order for our business to do the same.

It is becoming more vital for employers like us to do all we can to attract and then retain the best talent, especially given the intense competition for people with the Stem qualifications that our sector needs. This long-standing skills challenge has impacted construction for years and will, sadly, persist into the future.

For too long, construction has struggled to attract and retain people, and it also needs to become more diverse. Laing O’Rourke has already committed to reaching a 50-50 gender split among staff globally by 2033 as part of a major ESG platform. Policies like these can help address this challenge, by making a career at Laing O’Rourke appeal to a more diverse range of people.

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By taking away gender from our parenthood policy, it means no matter what type of family unit you are, you will be supported to be your best self at home and at work. I am passionate about equality and that means equality for everyone. The introduction of our progressive policy will allow our people to thrive, and when your people are thriving your business benefits, it is a win for everyone involved. I am proud to work for an organisation that is pushing the boundaries.

Rae Avatar Barnett is head of people, Europe, at Laing O’Rourke