If you were an engineer with a newborn you used to have a choice, put your career on hold or see less of your child. Two dads open up about what it’s like to have more options.
“Seeing my son grow up has been quite incredible – just how quickly he changes and catches on to things,” says Adrian Kho, a team leader for Geosciences with Cardno in Brisbane.
Kho is talking about the time he took off from late last year to February this year, as part of his Shared Care leave. It’s an entitlement offered by Cardno under its parental leave policy. It allows an employee who is the partner of a primary carer to take on that role and access the company’s paid primary parental leave entitlements. Kho treasures seeing moments he would have missed had he been working full-time.
“We were playing puzzles and he kept trying to put the piece into the hole and he couldn’t do it. But then one day he wakes up and suddenly he does it. It’s a really beautiful moment,” he says.
Cardno designed Shared Care leave so employees have more options when it comes to managing parental responsibilities and to help equalise the impacts felt by parents. Kho’s experience is a testament to this.
Kho’s wife, who is also an engineer, is not offered the same amount of parental leave by her employer. Also, their son’s grandparents have not been able to help due to the COVID-19 border closure (Kho was born in Malaysia and his wife in Japan). Despite these obstacles, and thanks in part to Shared Care leave, both of them have been able to do more to support each other and their child.
“It gave my family avenues. If we didn’t have this, I probably would have continued working full-time, or close to it, and she’d have to do full-time care until the baby was old enough to be put into childcare,” says Kho.
Shared Care leave is open to all Cardno employees, including same-sex couples, adoptive parents and single parents. The company offers more time with increasing tenure. Permanent employees who’ve been with the company more than five years can take up to 20 weeks of fully paid leave – a number that’s far above average for the country, let alone the industry.
“We’ve made a deliberate decision to create a more inclusive, flexible and family-friendly workplace at Cardno,” says Cardno Asia Pacific CEO Jamie Alonso. “I wish this leave was on offer when my daughter Gabi was a baby.”
Trevor Chiang is an Engineer in the Asset Strategies team at Cardno. His first child was born six months ago and he’s just begun his 16 weeks of Shared Care leave. He’s more excited than nervous about it.
“He’s at a really good age. He’s starting to learn how to flip. He’s going to learn how to crawl soon. He’s laughing and smiling and really curious,” says Chiang.
When Chiang and Kho talk about their sons, they describe the trials and simple satisfactions of fatherhood. But their ability to be there for so many wondrous moments in their children’s development is not common.
Even today, statistics show women reduce their work hours to take on the lion’s share of childcare while men mostly maintain the same level of work they had before having children.
Cardno’s Shared Care initiative is inspired in part by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who said in 2015, “If I could choose one thing to change, it would be for caring responsibilities to be shared equally between men and women.”
Chiang’s wife is a scientific research assistant, where her employment is based on fixed term contracts and is highly dependent on available funding and grants. She loves her work, but if you take extended time off it can be hard to get back into the industry.
Chiang is excited about Shared Care leave because it allows his wife to return to work full-time, gives him more time with his son, and doesn’t hinder his own advancement. Cardno’s parental leave allows for flexibility, and Chiang has chosen to maintain a level of work so that his entire career isn’t on pause.
“It allows me to continue working to finalise reports as well as keep in touch with my team while I’m on leave,” says Chiang.
The ability for both parents to maintain career momentum after having a child would not have been possible even a few years back, let alone a generation ago.
Kho and Chiang both grew up in Sandakan, a small city in Malaysia. They’ve been friends since they were six, they both attended Australian universities, and they are now having children around the same time. Kho even put Chiang forward for his current job at Cardno.
One difference between them is that while Kho’s dad was lucky enough to work close to home, Chiang’s dad was required to travel regularly for business, so he often spent an extended period of time away from home.
“At that point in time, someone had to work to provide for the family and someone had to stay home. He didn’t get to spend a lot of time with us when we were young,” says Chiang.
However, it’s not as if Kho’s parents had a perfect situation.
“Growing up in Malaysia, even mothers would often not get parental leave, let alone fathers,” says Kho. “So when my parents heard about it [Cardno’s policy] they were stunned.”
Kho wants his son to grow up with an understanding of both parents’ different cultures, something he is aware can be disrupted by unequal parental responsibilities.
“I’ve met people where the dad was working so hard that when they got home their kids didn’t even understand their language,” he says.
Chiang’s advice to engineers who have access to parental leave is simple: take it.
“Having the option to be able to stay at home with the little one, having the option to take leave and help out my wife, and being able to bond with the little one is really good,” he says.
“I’m so grateful to Cardno for offering this initiative and allowing me to continue flexible working arrangements. It means a lot.”
To find out more about Cardno’s parental leave policies or enquire about career opportunities, check out the Cardno Career Page.