Transcript Pt2: Series 4, International Women's Day Special, EP2: David Cummins talks with Althea Papinczak

Thursday, May 04, 2023 15:35 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

David Cummins: I would say, even in my experience personally, you do find these generally older managers who do feel that they do have this power over you because they've been there forever and they do say inappropriate things.

I've experienced that myself and I've witnessed that myself, and ultimately what happens is the person who's receiving those comments, Either feels bad about themselves, gets depressed, gets sad, and ultimately they leave. And they have to leave not only their job, but some people leave their career because some old manager feels they have this power to belittle someone because that's the way they did it a thousand years ago.

And so I do find it interesting that especially women in the industry, I would say that's a big factor of why there's so few women in the industry, purely because it's not a matter of not being able to handle it, but maybe they're smart enough to say, I won't accept that because it is very hard to take someone to HR, and I've done it myself where I've spoken to HR and they said, "that's just so and so", well, he shouldn't really be doing that.

Althea Papinczak: Or they say, oh, "we'll have to launch an investigation, we'll need to get witnesses". And that feels very overpowering as well. I've had that happen before about a comment that you wanted to report so that that person is spoken to.

But when they start using the words like investigation and witnesses, you go, oh, that's too much. And I don't want to go through that process.

David Cummins: I've had it where, "oh, he's the biggest income earner, so we can't do anything". I'm like, oh. Okay.

Althea Papinczak: I think the construction industry is getting a lot better. For someone like myself to have been able to say that there's probably been one or two instances in my 15 years in construction where I've had someone say something inappropriately or talk to me in a way that I found degrading.

I would say that every industry is going to have some people who will go through the same kind of experience. Whether it's construction or whether it's not, and I know Erin speaks quite openly about the fact that her biggest issue as a female project manager working in construction is often sometimes the unconscious bias that's put on her.

So she'll walk into a room and they'll immediately assume that the contract administrator standing next to her, who's a male, is the one leading the job, and they'll direct all the questions to him.

I think her way of looking at it is she could call 'em out and she could say, excuse me, and make a big deal out of it. But a lot of the time it is unconscious bias and it's just, that's the mistake that they've made. And as soon as she's said to them, "I'm the project manager leading this job, I'm happy to answer all of your questions".

They go, "oh, I'm so sorry". And then there's no issue from there. So I think a lot of it is, if you are able to talk very one-on-one to the person that maybe has made the wrong assumption about you, and you're able to give them the opportunity to prove to you and say sorry to you, and for them to make amends because maybe it was a mistake, that's step one.

But if it's someone who, like you said, is just out there belittling people regardless age and position and everything like that, there's a lot of people probably still in the industry in those very senior roles who've been there a very long time where that behaviour was probably tolerated for a big part of their career back in the day.

And it's not now, and it shouldn't be now, and it shouldn't be tolerated by companies and it shouldn't be tolerated by colleagues either. Colleagues need to be okay with calling it out and stepping up and supporting those around them as well.

David Cummins: Yeah, I totally agree. Well said.

So the One Hundred Percent Project do a lot of research, that's one of our biggest selling points in our unique selling point.

So at the moment, one of our latest research is about 'Breaking Dad', so the Breaking Dad research focused on psychological safety for men, particularly relating to their participation in flexible working conditions for families and their friends. The research found that men are likely to be stigmatised and being labelled as not been serious about their career.

If they request conditions such as long-term paternity leave, part-time working or remote working. Ironically, now thanks to Covid, many workplaces have proven that you can actually work from home and be quite productive. As one of my friends said, overheads are down, profits up staff retention is high, and client satisfaction is up.

However, there does seems to be this resistance for employers to actually. Benefit males working from home versus females working from home. In your experience, especially in, I suppose, more the design industry, have you found there's a bit of difference between males wanting to be the primary carer at home versus females?

Is it just always a female job or is it just always a male job? There seems to be an employer dis disconnect between the employees as.

Althea Papinczak: Yeah, definitely.

I was talking to a certifier the other day. So his wife had a baby about a year ago, and back when she was pregnant, they had a discussion and they made the decision that he wanted to go down to part-time.

So that after his two weeks of paternity leave had finished up that he would be able to spend the time going forward, having an extra day at home a week because he's like, I need to make sure that she's supported, and b, I want to be there. Those are really important critical years, and I don't want to miss out on the memories.

He had a conversation with his workplace and said, "I want to go down from five days to four" and they said "no", like, Exactly that. "You're in a senior role, it's a five day a week role". So he went and spent a year interviewing with other firms trying to find a four day a week role as a senior certifier and couldn't.

He ended up renegotiating with his current employer and they came to the party and said, "okay, you can do four, that's fine". But he said that he's pretty much worked five anyway. Since going to four days a week.

He said the whole process has really opened his eyes up because for his partner, she asked to go to three days a week when she was coming back from maternity leave.

And it just was not even the question. That was just something that was ticked off immediately for her, and they're very flexible with her hours. When I had my maternity leave, I did 10 months and I came back and I wanted to do three days a week and I wanted to do certain hours and they said, "yep, that's fine, not a problem".

My husband would absolutely have adored to be able to be a stay-at-home dad for that part of my maternity leave contract. But his workplace, and he's in finance, which is different, but they're like, "no, it's a five day a week role, we don't offer part-time". And I think there aren't many industries out there who seem to be willing to offer.

guys a part-time position, whether it's four days or whether it's three days, and he said it's the same thing. It's that stigma where people are like, oh, you're leaving at four o'clock to go pick up the kids and how nice for some, and he is like, well, we share, pick up and drop off. Is it that your wife does all the pickup and drop offs?

So I think there's a lot of stigma put on dads. And then I know other dads who were full-time stay-at-home dads in the design world, architects, and took time off to be stay-at-home dads. And then when they were coming back to work, felt in a way that they were just put on a pedestal.

People and other mothers and other women were just marvel at them going, that's so selfless of you. And if this parent was like, well, no, like that was my choice and that's what I wanted to do. She took the first six months off, I took the next six months off. That's what we wanted to do. But I think the more that families make a way to make it work for them and there's more males taking time off or doing part-time hours of doing flexible working, the more it's going to become normalised.

And they have to ask for it. I think more men have to ask for it because companies are going to catch up.

Companies always will eventually catch up to the requests and if you are losing good staff and they're leaving your company to go and work for another company that does offer that kind of flexibility for dads very quickly, it becomes a much more competitive industry as a whole, I think. So hopefully we see a bigger shift towards it being a bit more even in future.

David Cummins: I think you're a hundred percent right. Even the whole females who were traditionally doing five days, going to four days, all the research shows they were still doing five days worth of work.

Althea Papinczak: Yeah.

David Cummins: At less cost.

Althea Papinczak: Yeah.

David Cummins: And actually being more productive, and employers were still struggling to understand that process and I do think one of the benefits of Covid is that people actually can work from home, you can be productive.

And this whole idea of actually being the first one to work, the last one to leave when majority of the time people are on Facebook and not being productive, it just doesn't make sense.

So I do think that's one of the benefits of Covid. So I do hope that does continue.

Althea Papinczak: Yeah, and I think just quickly as well, like there's a lot of senior females I know in construction who might be a senior project manager or a project director, and they've said it's really hard if they want to go and have babies at later stages in their career, to come back into a senior role.

Is a project director able to work three days a week if they've been told no? Then I have heard about recently a few different employers who are now looking at, for those senior roles, getting two people to jobshare. So one will do three days and the other one will do three days. So they both do the three days and there's a day crossover where they're both in the office.

So they have to be highly organised, they have to be able to do really thorough, good handovers, and the employer is paying for that extra day of resourcing per week. But it means that he hasn't lost two senior females outta the business who couldn't come back and work the hours that they wanted to work after having a baby.

So I think employers have to become more flexible and they have to become more innovative in the way that they're looking at resourcing. And it's even for the guys too, like site managers.

Site managers who want to do three days or four days a week typically have never been able to do that before. But we had a site manager in our company who wanted to do three days a week cause he is on track to retirement and he's getting older and he wants to not do the five day a week and the big hours anymore.

And so they paid him as a site manager, as a floating resource to cover the days where one of the other site managers had an appointment or some of the sites were extraordinarily busy and they needed extra resourcing so they were able to take him in a part-time basis.

And offer that as something that I don't think you see a lot of, I don't know, a lot of other part-time site managers, so I think it's just employers being a bit more agile in the way that they look at resourcing in the future.

David Cummins: Totally. And there's so many benefits to that, understandably.

So what changes would you like to see in the construction industry for a more diverse and gender equality workplace for the future? because I just don't think we are there yet, but I definitely do see the changes in my career in the last 12 plus years, I have seen changes, but I do think we've got a long way to go.

Althea Papinczak: It was good that I went and had my baby in maternity leave and came back from maternity leave. To be able to kind of look at it full circle and see what all the different kind of challenges and constraints are at different stages.

In my early years, it was probably getting enough exposure and getting enough one-on-one training and mentoring and being given the opportunity to step up and being given tasks to be more autonomous as I was young and really energetic and wanting to just absorb all the learning that I could.

And then as you get more senior in an organisation, I think it's really important that you have male bosses around you advocating for you and putting you forward for the big jobs or the big projects. Putting you forward for promotion, being able to make sure that when you're going into those discussions around pay reviews or performance reviews, that they're looking at it and making sure that you are not just walking away from that conversation, too nervous to have it.

I think if more male and female bosses were more encouraging and even mentoring employees through that conversation, like it's a hard one because you, you think about it, businesses are there to make money, so it's a really difficult one, but I think if more bosses are there spending the time with employees to help nurture those negotiation skills that's going to really help females feel empowered and like they're being supported in the workplace.

And then as men and women want to go and start families, if that's what they choose to do, the conversation should be more normal. It should be more accepted that if I came to you and said, Hey, I'm looking at starting a family, that that would always be supported, that that wouldn't mean that all of a sudden you're dropping me down to the smaller projects because you're nervous that I'm going to get pregnant and finish up nine months later.

So, generally it's a lot on the employers to really make sure that they're there for the open, candid conversations and they're willing to have them, and that those open and candid conversations are met with the support that employees are looking for through the maternity leave phase.

I got paid maternity leave and that was amazing. I got 12 weeks paid maternity leave and that was a game changer for me. And then when I came back, I got daycare assistance for the first two years. So that again, I think is probably one of the most non talked about barriers for women and parents.

Returning from having a baby, because if you are coming back three days a week and you are paying through the nose for daycare, that's a big barrier. So for me, having daycare assistance and meaning that I was essentially around $20 a day out of pocket, I was happy to come back three days a week.

I was happy to come back five days a week. It wasn't a barrier anymore. I think that's a big one that could be really looked at in terms of those paternity policies is daycare.

And for me, that just took a lot of the stress away from figuring out financially how I was going to make it work, coming back to work, if I did want to come back less days a week, and how that would work with mortgage repayments and the rest generally.

Covid has been a really good one, and changing employers, being open to flexible work and understanding that we can all work from home and we'll have laptops, we'll have phones, so you're available whenever, but I think it's gone back the other way where you just never switch off now.

So I have to make a really concerted effort that when I finish work, I don't take my laptop home and I'm not on my phone looking at emails because it's with you 24/7 now, especially through lockdowns.

If you are locked down and you are working full-time, you are on screens constantly and it's really hard to switch off and make sure you have that mental time to yourself to unwind and everything like that.

I have seen that it's a very competitive market at the moment in construction and design and project management and all our related industries. It's a very competitive market. There's a lot of people moving around at the moment and so I think the employers who are going to best support employees are going to be the ones that do the best I think.

Employees know what they want now and they're going to get it, and if they don't get it with you, they're going to move and they're going to get it from someone else.

David Cummins: Yeah, I totally agree. Well done.

And so what does the future of WIDAC look like for you? Or what's the future hold? You've done so much and you've achieved so much. I do think it is the biggest in Australia.

 I was looking around the world, I haven't seen any as big as you, so I'm willing to say you've got the biggest network in the world. So I'm going to give you that title today unless anyone wants to challenge me. So what's the future look like for both of you?

Althea Papinczak: To be really honest. Really, really candidly honest, WIDAC was an absolute whirlwind that grew overnight and got really big, and then we had a couple of years where we're like, we're well established in three states, we're going to just keep doing what we know we we're really good at and get the business in the best position as we possibly can to get ready to grow into these other states.

And so we'd done some roadshow events in Adelaide and South Australia and Canberra, and we were ready to head over to Perth and Tasmania and Northern Territory, and then Covid happened and the last two years have been very tough for us.

Like everyone else, I know it was the most overused word of 2020, but we pivoted and we went digital and we went online, which for people like Erin and I who are face-to-face people who love that human interaction was really weird.

And I still would say that I'm not a big fan of digital events. I'll openly say that I'm not a big fan of digital events. I'd rather be seeing people face to face. I'd rather be standing there having a wine with you and having a conversation in a big room of people. But I think it's meant a lot for our business in terms of being able to reach other people that we might not have been able to reach before.

And now with borders opening up. We are ready to go back and continue expanding and meeting new people in those other states that we're not well established in yet. So we're really looking forward to heading to Adelaide and Canberra and Perth and South Australia again, and for us, I think the sky's the limit with WIDAC we really have looked at it and said, what is the secret sauce and what's the recipe that's meant that it has been so successful?

And I think for us, there's other industries that desperately need something similar as well. That might be industries like IT and finance, where there's not a networking platform as candid and open and honest and agile as we are.

So we definitely love the design, construction, and related industries. We feel like we've done a lot in this space and we want to grow further around Australia to mean that we can reach more people. But I do also think that in the future there's a lot of opportunity for us to keep growing the business as a whole and helping more women even outside of our group of industries.

So, It's a really exciting thing I think for Erin and I as business partners of five years, sometimes it's a really daunting thing to own a company where we're trying to figure out what's next and what's the next big move.

And we're both still working and trying to figure out at what point do we step back and do what WIDAC full-time or do we keep running with the amazing team that we have who are running the company and the events for us.

So we still don't know. And I think Covid through a big spanner in the works and made us stop and realise, but luckily we're a very agile business and coming back, people are desperate to get out and network is what we've seen. So next year's already looking huge for us. So it's exciting. I think whatever the future holds, it'll be exciting.

David Cummins: I have no doubt it'll be positive. Thank you so much for your time. All the best to you and WIDAC and the team. Hopefully I get to catch up with you soon for a beer and wine.

Althea Papinczak: Yeah, definitely.

David Cummins: We do thank you for your time and really appreciate everything you've put into WIDAC and everyone else as well.

Althea Papinczak: Thank you so much for having me, David it's been awesome.

David Cummins: If you would like to find out more about the One Hundred Percent Project, our research and listen to other podcasts, please visit our website

Thank you for listening.

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