Tell a prospective employer that you’d like children or prefer to work part-time so you can look after your child and they’re likely to roll their eyes. So is it best not to mention it?
Nearing the end of my maternity leave, I have been trying to re-enter the workplace. It’s hard enough to find a job in the construction industry at the moment without the added constrictions a baby brings. I was offered a well paid job and thought all was going well until I made a few more enquiries. They were happy for me to work part-time, but their expectations would be just the same: I would be expected to meet the same targets as my full-time colleagues.
Something I kept to myself while working, and which I therefore mention in a whisper now, is that I have always wanted children. I imagine many others feel the same way - but you can’t say that at work.
This led me to embrace every opportunity during my “dependant free” years. I’m grateful for my education but I have never felt freer than my graduation day when I could finally determine my own destiny. Seemingly a month can’t go by without us being reminded that a woman’s fertility dramatically drops at 35. I therefore view the years between university and having children as a woman’s chance to try and achieve as much as possible to allow her to re-enter the workplace at a vaguely similar level later.
To this end I think I was often more ambitious than some of my colleagues.
I project managed a variety of schemes, concentrating, latterly, on high-end residential. In addition to my day job I attended up to three industry events a week and was fortunate to be nominated to the G4C (generation for collaboration) board which I subsequently chaired for three years. This exposure enabled me to join the Building Graduate Advisory Panel in 2005 and to have the opportunity to write this article now.
’Part-time project manager required - salary competitive, flexi-time, childcare vouchers available, no emails after 7pm’ is not an advert I have seen in the back pages of Building lately
The tough employment and childcare issues faced by parents are often covered in the national press. In my case, the only local nursery with places costs £55 a day. So I need to be earning that (after tax), plus a decent amount more to make it worth not spending time with my child. Furthermore, the nursery is open from 7am to 7pm and for every 15 minutes parents are late picking up their children, there is an £8 fee. We have chosen to move out of London so if I were to commute by train as my husband does, we would have to rely on the trains to be on time to pick up our son. You may think this is our fault for moving out of London - and it is - but I’m not convinced we would be any better off had we stayed. I have heard horror stories of nurseries costing £90 a day in London.
“Part-time project manager required - salary competitive, flexi-time, childcare vouchers available, occasional home working possible, no unexpected site meetings and no emails after 7pm” is not an advert I have seen in the back pages of Building lately, and I know a job like this isn’t feasible. Sites can’t function part-time, people need quick decisions and, overall, companies need their employees to be making money for them. My previous experience in the industry must surely be useful to someone though. To this end, I have been applying to local construction industry-related companies whenever they have advertised for project support or office management roles. But I have discovered that, as these roles do not necessarily require any construction-related experience, competition is even greater - every mother and recent graduate in town is applying.
So do I apply for the sort of positions that I would have gone for pre-baby, in the hope that they might like me so much that when I mention (at the last possible moment) that I’d like to work part-time due to the fact that I am a parent, they don’t give their HR representative an alarmed glance and say: “We’ll be in touch”? In any case, I’m uncomfortable deceiving a potential employer right from the beginning like this - even if it is what all the advice says.
I’m hopeful that the perfect role might be out there but in the meantime I’ll keep buying the lottery ticket; it’s probably similar odds.
Katherine Bailey is a project manager