An Ipswich architect is pushing for better maternity packages so more women in her industry don’t have to choose between a career and children.
Pippa Jacob’s family vacations often involved visiting grand churches or beautiful old buildings, as her father is an architect. He founded Nicholas Jacob Architects when she was young and from the age of 15 she worked in the office doing small tasks and running errands.
Pippa wasn’t considering a career in the industry until a friend of hers asked her father for advice on what qualifications you need to get a job as an architect – giving her a “eureka moment”. when she realized she could too.
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Fast forward from her teenage years to the age of 36 and Pippa has joined her father’s business and was recently made a partner, having taken a year off maternity leave to have her son Jude. Her experiences in her spare time have led her to realize that the provision for new parents – often women – in architecture just isn’t good enough, so now she’s using her new position to lobby for change.
“What I have found is that there is no support for women on maternity leave except for statutory pay, which is £150 a week,” Pippa explained. “A lot of women in architecture have babies later in life, because it takes so long to qualify they tend to be in their 30s, at which point they have mortgages and financial commitments to deal with.
“Going from good pay to legal pay was a downfall and it was quite a shock. We only survived on credit cards and overdrafts. I have mom friends in other industries who have good support packages and so I looked into whether it was specifically for women in architecture and it is – we work in an industry that is still very male dominated and it just hasn’t been think.”
Now that Pippa has settled into her new role as a partner in the firm, she has worked with RIBA Suffolk – the organization that represents architects in the area – to seek maternity benefits for women in the county. in industry. If she finds it to be a prevalent problem, which she thinks she will, then work will begin to improve it.
Pippa was lucky enough to have candid talks with her bosses when she returned to work to ensure she was able to juggle childcare and her responsibilities, alongside her husband who works in the cinema industry. “The nursery wouldn’t accept Jude until he was a year old, but legal motherhood only lasts nine months,” she said. “The practice was really good and I got a zero hours contract for the last few months so I can work the gap when Jude turns one and when maternity leave ends.
“The practice was really good when I told them about it. They were really supportive of my return to work and I have a really good setup at home now, compared to when the lockdown started when everything was working in your living room or on a busy kitchen island.” Pippa admits that while discussing her return to work, a male colleague admitted he never gave much thought to their maternity package, showing how a male-dominated industry can negatively impact women’s careers – because women are often the ones taking child care leave.
“The risk when childbirth is not supported is that you lose staff who have experience, expertise, and we have to encourage them to come back to work,” added Pippa. “Being a mom is part of who we are and it doesn’t take away from our value as businesswomen. When you return to work, talk nicely and early with your business about how it will work. Remember the value of your skills. It’s a trait of business women to apologize and not value yourself.”
Pippa’s advice for women, across all sectors, struggling with maternity leave – and men on paternity leave – is to seek the £80 monthly Government Child Benefit payment because ‘every penny counts’ . She also says to use your accrued vacation from your leave and tag it at the end so you can get more fully paid time off. She thinks a small top-up payment from companies would allow their staff to afford to have children, without costing the company more than it can save.