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Rachel Mead, Woolworths head diversity and inclusion, said the decision is about recognising the value that diversity brings to the company’s teams, customers and communities.
“By acknowledging the complexity and challenges team members face during their gender affirmation, we’ve had the opportunity to show real care and positively impact team member experience across the Group by introducing a paid leave component to our Gender Affirmation Policy,” Mead said.
“We believe that by creating an inclusive environment where each and every single team member can be at their best is critical to unlocking the true value of diversity.”
The leave entitlements will be available to employees across the Group including at Woolworths Supermarkets, Big W, Endeavour Group, hotels business ALH Group as well as Countdown Supermarkets in New Zealand.
Woolworths Group introduced a Gender Affirmation Policy and supports in 2018 and has been awarded Gold Tier status in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) for LGTBQ+ inclusion for the last three years.
The move was welcomed in New Zealand, where Countdown Supermarkets was one of the first employers in the region to launch a Gender Affirmation Policy back in 2017, prior to combining the policy with the wider Woolworths Group the following year.
Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager of corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, said the policy has been critical in opening up conversations about gender diversity and gender affirmation in the business.
“Gender affirmation can be difficult and complex, often involving medical appointments, surgical procedures and mental health impacts,” she said.
“We’re proud to be a business that looks to develop and implement policies that make Countdown a place where our team feel free to bring their whole self to work and be who they are, where they feel safe and where they feel supported.”
Lack of support in retail
Despite retailers globally taking outwardly steps to provide a more inclusive and diverse culture, few have declared such tangible supports for employees.
Earlier this year, insurance company Allianz Australia introduced four weeks of paid leave and up to 12 months of unpaid leave for employees affirming their gender.
Allianz Australia managing director Richard Feledy said at the time that the move was about creating an environment and culture where everyone feels safe and that they belong.
“I am very proud that Allianz has taken this important step. Yet, despite growing awareness of the struggles that transgender people face, I acknowledge there is more work to be done, and as an organisation, we have an unwavering commitment to continually better our support for our people, who are at the heart of everything we do,” Feledy said in March.
Around the same time, AGL Energy, one of Australia’s leading energy providers, introduced an extra six weeks’ paid leave to support employees to affirm their gender.
According to a 2019 Counting Ourselves Study, 57 per cent of trans and non-binary people surveyed didn’t disclose their gender identity at work due to fear of discrimination.
Karen Gately, an HR specialist and founder of Corporate Dojo, told Inside Retail that these
kinds of policies say a lot about the respect and empathy a company has for its team members.
“It sends a really strong signal about culture. More and more people are being choosy of who they want to work for based on the organisation’s values. If we’re serious about being competitive as an employer and attracting and retaining the best people, then we do need to win people’s trust and confidence around the way we think and behave as an organisation,” she said.
Employees that don’t require such supports are also likely to appreciate the gesture. The same goes for consumers.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world in the retail sector. It is a diverse workforce but it’s also, to say the obvious, a diverse consumer base,” she said.
While some additional paid leave entitlements, such as menstruation and menopause leave, may place cost pressures on smaller businesses, Gately said this is unlikely to, given the small minority of people that will need it.
“You’d have to be a pretty stingy employer to argue that this would have an adverse financial impact on your business. All it is is a couple of weeks to help somebody on a journey that is life-changing,” she said.
“Even if you don’t support the individual’s personal life choices, you really are missing out on an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re willing to be open-minded.”