Altering leave days, with both men and women employees in mind, may help companies retain women in their jobs, particularly those with positions in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
PAE is an American engineering firm that designs “high-performing environments” that are designed with a focus on nature, but especially on water and energy conservation.
PAE’s Director of Employee Experience, Shiloh Butterworth, says that they are testing a method to keep their engineering women in the company: “We are proud to offer an equitable leave benefit to help sustain our employees at home and work.”
Presently, under law in the US, mothers-to-be get 12 weeks of unpaid leave (although there may be some variation between states). Whereas PAE’s new paid leave policy is believed to be one of the most unique in the engineering industry, in the United States. Their “Wellness Leave” system offers expectant mothers and fathers six weeks leave at full pay. This offer is on top of the leave benefits already available to staff.
But is this remarkable? According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, the U.S. is the only one, out of 41 nationstudied that did not mandate paid paternal leave. Estonia offers a staggering 87 weeks of paid leave for new parents.
The thinking behind PAE’s Leave policy is interesting. Butterworth believes that if men took more paternal leave, it would “level the playing field” for the advancement of women’s engineering careers.
The program also allows leave for any PAE employee adopting a child or “dealing with a serious health condition of their own or a loved one.”
Retaining women in engineering roles has historically been difficult for companies due to several factors. PAE is hoping their equitable leave policies will lead to a “culture shift” in the industry, implementing an ideology that enforces equal rights between males and females in the industry.
Where are the women?
In 2016, Engineers Australia released a report that indicated that “half of female graduates in engineering do not enter the workforce”. The report revealed that only 13% of engineers in Australia were female.
The report also stated that only 1% of Australian women past the age of 50 are currently working in engineering industries.
Dorothy Thompson, the chief executive of Drax - a company that generates 7-8% of the UK’s electricity - admits that attracting women to the energy sector has been difficult. She told the Guardian that Drax set up an apprenticeship program and received two women applications compared to a staggering 76 from men.
“We would like to have more female apprentices, more female engineers. We believe in diversity. But it is challenging,” she said. “Part of it is in education but part of it is perception. We as an industry need to be more proactive in explaining how interesting an opportunity we are.”
A concerted effort needs to be made to overcome the persistently low numbers of women in STEM industries. Roma Agrawal, a structural engineer, commented wisely in an interview with Making It Magazine, “Scientists and engineers work for people, if our teams do not reflect society, then how can we come up with the best solutions?”
Leadership, Center For Parental Leave. "A Bold Move to Retain Women in STEM: PAE Announces Gender-Neutral Paid Leave Policy." PRLog. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
Livingston, Gretchen. "Among 41 Nations, U.S. Is the Outlier When It Comes to Paid Parental Leave." Pew Research Center. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
"Technical Societies." Home | Engineers Australia. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.