Can female sales agents balance work and family?

With the long hours and the expense of childcare, female sales agents entering the real estate industry can find it difficult to juggle a career and starting a family, according to the general manager at Laing + Simmons.

General manager Leanne Pilkington was responding to Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s recent announcement to reduce the paid parental leave threshold, which is due to be finalised in today’s federal Budget.

Ms Pilkington, along with Harcourts Victoria CEO Sadhana Smiles, told Real Estate Business that the more pressing issue around this debate is the shortage and cost of childcare places in Australia.

“If you had a look at the women selling real estate here, I think you’ll probably find that not a lot of them with young children are choosing these roles,” she said.

“It’s the commitment of the job, working Saturdays, working nights, it’s not a family-friendly job until you get to that stage of your career where you’re well known, and then it becomes a bit more flexible. But you can’t come into the industry and expect that kind of flexibility in a sales role,” added Ms Pilkington.

She argued that the bigger issue for women is childcare when they get back to work.

“There’s a huge shortage, depending on where you live, and it gets very expensive. So it can be very difficult for people to go back to work because it almost costs you as much to look after the child as what you earn,” said Ms Pilkington.

This opinion is echoed by Ms Smiles, who said the fundamental issue that the government is not addressing is the cost of childcare and the ongoing shortage of childcare places.

“As a mum who opted to stay at home, one of the issues I faced, as many mums do, was not that I didn’t want to return to work or that I was financially in strife if I stayed at home; it was more around the fact that by choosing to go back to work I was going to place an additional strain on the income that I earned due to childcare costs,” she said.  

Ms Smiles said her options were not to return, return part time or return full time knowing that she was not going to be bringing home the level of income she should due to the exorbitant cost of childcare.

“I believe that the cost of childcare in Australia is the key inhibiter of why women don’t return to the workforce,” she added.  

Ms Smiles believes that if the reason for paid parental leave is to increase female participation back into the work force after having children, then the missing piece is childcare.

“Most women, I believe, will choose to stay at home or return part time due to the cost of or the unavailability of affordable childcare - something the paid parental leave in its current form does not address,” she said.

One successful sales agent that has managed to start a family and maintain her career is Georgi Bates of Cunningham Property. She said it’s all about keeping things balanced but that it can definitely be achieved.

“You’ve got to have a flexible work environment,” said Ms Bates. “The real estate industry now realises that it needs to recognise flexibility. It’s a matter of being in the right office environment, having the confidence that you can be organised, and working at how you want it to be. You don’t have to do all your appraisals at night time. I think when you’re starting out you can get so fixated about being available to everyone all the time.”

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