Making room for mothers: Inclusivity includes parental leave

A pacifier laying on a desktop calendar

The topic of maternity leave among small businesses is a recurring discussion and one that rings especially true for the green industry.

With more women and younger generations coming into the field, green industry companies need to be open to discussing the possibility of maternity, paternity or parental leave, as well as what practical steps need to be taken to offer it. Part One Editors Note

Total Landscape Care reached out to green industry women to find out how more emphasis can be placed on maternity leave, as well as how not having a policy in place could drastically affect employee morale.

What’s the hold-up?

With so many U.S. landscaping companies falling into the bracket of small to medium, Jennifer Lemcke, CEO at Weed Man, says finances could be a huge contributing factor in not offering maternity leave.

As a Canadian company, Lemcke says they are mandated by the government to offer up to 18 months of maternity leave. In her experience, most people only take 12 months, but she does add that the leave is sharable between partners.

“It’s probably harder for smaller businesses to offer this type of paid leave to employees, even if they did want to,” she says. “Whereas in Canada, they still get paid, and the government subsidizes it. It probably puts a lot more pressure on ownership of small businesses than it does for Canadian companies.”

In Heidi Clark’s opinion, many small businesses claim to not be able to afford maternity leave, but she believes “there could be resources available and budgets set aside each year for these types of circumstances.”

In her time leading Weed Man, Lemcke says she’s experienced numerous employees announcing a pregnancy, and each time she is ecstatic for the person.

“To me, pregnancy is just normal,” she says. “You’re going to have men and women at a certain age in their life who are going to go on maternity or paternity leave. It’s just part of doing business, and I would never think to not be incredibly happy.”

She adds that having someone out on parental leave also offers opportunities for other employees to cross-train in the organization and become more well-rounded team members.

During Jan Zepeda’s time in the green industry, she says she’s experienced two pregnancies at two different companies, and while she says she was treated respectfully overall, there were plenty of beneficial changes that could have been done.

“In this day and age, it’s a bit disrespectful to not have a policy like this,” she says. “We do work in a male-dominated field, but we need to also operate as women. I’ve seen a lot of my friends working in the industry where they’ve actually lost their jobs because they had a child, and that’s hard to watch.”

Employee morale, length of leave

Company culture and boosting morale are two attributes many companies focus on, but could not offering parental leave actually be turning people away from your company and making your current employees dissatisfied?

In her place of employment, Clark says they do not have a policy for maternity/paternity leave, and she believes this negatively impacts employee morale.

“I think it hurts morale, especially for women,” says Clark. “It’s as if women cannot successfully work in this industry if they are going to have children. It definitely discourages women from applying for a job that does not offer maternity leave.”

Along with maternity leave, Taylor Sounders, landscape designer/sales with Pickel Landscape Group, believes paternity leave should be a priority. 

“When my husband and I were talking about having a baby, I made it clear that I was expecting an equal partner,” says Sounders. “Women need time to heal and should just be able to focus on themselves and the baby and let their partner handle the other stuff. The partner should also get time to bond with their new baby; they are only that little once. I know a lot of us like to think we can do it all, but it's okay to heal and let someone else do the heavy lifting.”

“Women especially have a lot of physical recovery to do on top of taking care of a newborn,” says Clark. “Spouses are just as important in this process as they are the support system for the woman having the child.”

Depending on the type of delivery, Clark says the necessary leave time could vary. For a natural delivery, she believes six weeks is acceptable, but for a cesarian section, she says eight weeks would be necessary.

For both of her pregnancies, Zepeda says she received two weeks of vacation time and paired it with short-term disability, which covered the remainder of her 12 weeks of leave.

Taylor Sounders and her husband holding their newborn daughter while sitting on the floor of the nurseryTaylor Sounders and her husband enjoy time with their newborn.Sounders has been with Pickel Landscape Group for four years, and she says she is the first woman to have a baby while working there.

With 12 employees in the summer and five in the winter, Sounders says she wasn’t expecting maternity leave, but she was pleasantly surprised when her boss gifted her three extra weeks of paid time off (PTO). Combined with her other PTO, she was able to have six weeks of leave, and she is now working from home part-time for another six weeks.

“My boss and his wife had a baby a few months before me, so I also think that has helped that we are kind of going through the same process,” says Sounders. “There was also a woman who worked at the company before I did who wasn't pregnant while she was employed but she did have a baby before she was hired, and my boss let her bring her baby into work to help her save on daycare costs.”

Typically speaking, Sounders says it would be difficult for new moms to come back to work earlier than six weeks after, especially if they are breastfeeding. In her opinion, 12 weeks is an acceptable timeframe for maternity leave, but any time more than that would always be appreciated.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of this series, where we'll hear how these women think companies can adapt and change policies to better suit expecting couples.

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