Sue Whipps has always been a strong advocate for the flexibility that family friendly workplaces provide employees.
As the Country Head of People and Organisation for Novartis Australia and New Zealand, a global healthcare company and accredited Family Inclusive Workplace, she strives to create an environment where every employee has the opportunity to realise their full potential.
Whipps has been working in leadership for around 20 years and was able to get her start as a manager in a flexible part-time capacity. Her level of commitment to the role never wavered, but the increased flexibility allowed for better work-life balance as the mother of young children.
She shared how she’s been able to help in achieving this on the latest episode of the Family Friendly Workplaces podcast, an initiative by Parents At Work and UNICEF Australia sharing conversations with leaders on how their businesses are enabling staff to cohesively manage their home and work lives.
In between the beginning of her career and her time at Novartis, Whipps and her husband spent seven years working on a small business. When eventually transitioning from self-employment back into the corporate world, she knew that having a flexible work environment with Novartis was going to be the key to a beneficial experience for both herself and the company.
Creating a family friendly workplace
Nearly a year ago, Novartis became an accredited Family Inclusive Workplace to ensure they had a successful benchmark of best practice guidelines and a work and family action plan.
Employers who certify with FFW have to meet national work and family standards across the following categories: flexible work, parental leave, family well-being and family care.
Whipps says there were a number of key policies enacted in alignment with the FFW standards.
Novartis developed a global parental leave policy which includes fourteen weeks paid leave, no qualifying period and is available to all, regardless of gender. Since this policy was launched in countries around the world, it has been a huge leap for places like the United States where paid parental leave is a long way behind the policies here in Australia.
Another policy change from Novartis was the move to create a formal approach to a flexible working environment. This was done by launching the program ‘Choice with Responsibility’ to allow employees to choose their own working arrangements.
“You can choose to go and spend time at your child’s school if there’s something there that you want to go and see. It’s your choice,” she says. “If you then want to make up those hours later in the day, earlier on, you’ve got the choice to be flexible.”
Novartis has also created ‘Wellness Day’, after realising during the early days of the pandemic that many people had stopped attending important health checks due to a backlog of appointments. On ‘Wellness Day’, Novartis employees are encouraged to invest in their wellbeing by going to those health checks, and then sharing that they’ve taken the time out across social media to influence others to follow.
Equalising pay among employees
Eliminating the gender pay gap is a critical element to family friendly workplaces. Whipps says Novartis has taken the 2023 Equal Pay Pledge and describes the many ways this pledge is being enacted in the company.
“One was around really creating an environment where we’re transparent and publish for associates to see what the internal position of their pay is and also, now, what their external position is against benchmark data,” she says.
“The second was really starting to remove the bias in traditionally looking at someone’s prior salary to make an offer for a future salary. We’re saying, actually what’s the point of that for women? Often, they’re already at a disadvantage if they haven’t been paid similar to their male counterparts historically. You’re then going to keep perpetuating the problem.”
Another key practice that Novartis has implemented is getting a fifty-fifty, male-female candidates list for roles. Doing this has been quite powerful for them in terms of globally equalising the number of male-female leaders in key roles across the business.
Novartis looks to be on track for their 2023 targets and undertakes an equity pay study every two years to address any inequities. Whipps is also excited to announce that the company is already at fifty-one percent female, forty-nine percent male across their manager pool.
Caring about employees as individuals
One of the biggest things Whipps has learned while creating family friendly workplaces is that it’s important to never lose sight of the individual employee among broad-brush policy changes.
At Novartis, there are employee resource groups where associates who have a passion around a particular area of diversity and inclusion can help create that network and internal framework.
“I think for companies, small or large, getting employees to volunteer, to get involved, and help lead a particular area that they’re passionate about– they’ve got personal experience in – is a really effective and impactful way to approach your strategy and program development.”
You can listen to the Women’s Agenda interview with Sue on the Family Friendly Workplaces podcast below.