Not only do flexible arrangements attract experienced staff and improve the representation of women in senior roles, they can make your practice more efficient too, says Daniele Sini, senior project leader at Richard Markland Architects
The recent article by Pepper Barney ‘Why I felt I had to quit BDP after maternity leave’, and the comments that followed, resonated with me. Many echoed my own experiences.
I am an experienced architect, I run projects and teams and I am a father as well. My partner and I both work in private practices and share childcare equally.
After my daughter was born, nine years ago, I started working four days a week. With my projects being on site, I always made sure the team knew what to do when I wasn’t in the office and was aware of any issues that could arise on site and therefore how to deal with them.
As the project was coming to an end and with the support from the practice management, I took three months of unpaid paternity leave after my partner went back to work after the birth of our second child (this was before regulations about shared parental leave were introduced).
When I came back I continued to work part time. Overall, the practice supported this decision when I was in a role where I oversaw projects, as I could plan meetings, reviews and programmes around to my part-time working schedule.
However, problems would arise when, in between my own jobs, I helped other project leaders who found the fact that I wasn’t available the whole week impractical. It is something that still puzzles me. As you become more senior you shouldn’t be expected to be in the office all the time; instead you should make sure the team is working with quality and efficiency.
In my previous practices I have always been the only man, or one of two, working part time to care for my children. All other male colleagues with children were working full time, with their partner working reduced hours and taking the bigger share of childcare.
This is entirely personal choice of course and everyone should do as they prefer. But flexible working patterns for both parents is, in my view, a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed if we want to have equal numbers of women and men in senior positions.
Some organisations don’t like the idea of part-time staff – perhaps because they are under-resourced and projects are run in a constant state of emergency
It wasn’t easy when changing practices. Whenever I mentioned the phrase ‘part time’ during interviews, there was a silence – a silence that spoke volumes. During the interview for my current role, I mentioned my family requirements and the fact I had been working part time until now and I wanted to continue with this arrangement.
The answer was: ‘You can do the hours as you want, as long you do them’. The result is that, for the first time in nine years, I am paid full-time, working longer hours some days and shorter other days.
I leave the office after lunch once a week and on another day or two I leave at 5pm to pick up the kids at 6pm. But the project I am working on (a big domestic project) is not affected at all.
I’m able to work flexible times because there is mutual trust between me and the practice. They know I will get my job done. I love my job and yes, I am a parent. I don’t see any issue with that; it’s all about time management.
It certainly helps that my practice has systems in place to ensure that all the mundane tasks of everyday work are done quickly and efficiently, and we spend most of our time on the projects we work on rather than doing administrative tasks.
Some organisations don’t like the idea of having part-time staff – perhaps because they are under-resourced and projects are run in a constant state of emergency. I’ve been there myself in the past and the only way out is to work 50 hours a week or more.
But it’s not sustainable either for the team or the practice. Projects should be well staffed, and if you want people with experience you should accommodate their requests for flexible time.
I don’t consider myself necessarily better than other colleagues, but I noticed that when I came back from my first paternity leave, my organisational capacity improved; I was more efficient and able to prioritise, and I could easily multitask, something that makes my female colleagues smile.
I hope by sharing my experiences it will keep this debate alive.
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