Lion spent millions of dollars closing its gender pay gap. Now it’s going one step further on promoting workplace gender equality: removing ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ carer labels to give parents more flexibility around the leave they take after having a child.
Removing these labels is significant. They are labels that have been identified as a major driver of inequality in workplaces, particularly as they cement gender stereotypes from the moment a parent becomes a parent. But this latest policy shift comes after another moment of significance for Lion: undertaking a pay audit, discovering the firm had a problem and then spending more than $6 million to close its gender pay gap.
It’s a move that outgoing CEO Stuart Irvine, who has also kickstarted a number of other gender equality initiatives during his eight years at the helm, has more than paid for itself in terms of the level of talent they’ve been able to attract and retain.
Lion announced its new paid parental leave policy last month to further extend on these pay equity achievements. They also announced they’d be paying superannuation on top of both paid and unpaid leave, a new initiative offering miscarriage leave, uncapped domestic violence leave, as well as COVID-19 specific policies, including vaccination leave and other programs aiming to support the wellbeing of staff and give them the flexibility they need.
I spoke to Irvine for the Family Friendly Workplaces Podcast, an initiative of Parents at Work and UNICEF Australia asking how leaders are creating more supportive workplaces that acknowledge the needs and caring responsibilities staff have outside of work.
He said it was his own family experiences of having children that inspired him to pursue a better way for staff, especially for parents experiencing miscarriage.
“When my wife Tammy had to go to the hospital, the company [a former employer] said, ‘Well, that’s just what happens. You have to carry on working’.” At that moment, to be honest with you, there was a significant break in trust with the people that I believed that I worked for.
“It just gave me this insight into the bond of trust that you have to have if you really want to have the engagement of your people.”
Irvine spoke about having three children under six at one point and the challenges, sacrifices and decisions he and his wife made in order to make it work. He said these experiences have aided the empathy he feels for all staff trying to balance careers, parenting and other caring responsibilities, with almost half (45%) of Lion’s almost 2000 strong workforce in Australia having some kind of child caring responsibilities.
During lockdowns, that’s been especially tough, with so many staff trying to manage their roles while taking on additional caring and home school responsibilities. Irvine says they’ve done what they can to help, including offering early bonuses to support families financially, setting up home offices, and changing start and end times on meetings to ensure they better work with what’s going on at home.
Now with this new leave policy, Irvine says the employer wants to provide even more choices for staff.
The firm now offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all new parents, that can be taken at any point over a two year period. They also now offer 18 weeks of superannuation paid on top of both paid and unpaid leave.
Closing the gender pay gap
Lion was surprised to learn it had a gender pay gap, given it had always prided itself on being equitable and fair.
“But we still thought we’d better check it,” Irvine says. They discovered a 3.2% pay gap. They questioned if it could really be right, and so they checked it again.
“Then we went, Okay we’ve got a problem here,’ says Irvine. “And later on, I discovered that perhaps organisations that believe themselves to be fair and equitable are more at risk of this actually than organisations that are not.”
They moved to fix the gap immediately.
“So we went to the board and the board was super supportive and we fixed it up straight away and that cost us around six million bucks. But we check every six months to make sure that we stay in a plus or minus half percent from that equity level.”
While that money was primarily spent on fixing the pay gap for women, Irvine says it did also go to men — with their goal to close gaps in like for like roles.
He says that as an employer, they’ve gotten more than their money back, which gives them confidence again to pursue their bolstered paid parental leave package. He says they see the evidence in their engagement scores, as well as in some of the organisation’s women in leadership positions who he says know that they are working for a fair and just employee.
He adds they also now attract talent differently, and ultimately get better people.
“If you believe in people and you trust people and they know that they’re valued and trusted and paid fairly and equitably, then they want to work for you,” he says.
Irvine describes it as the difference between creating a place where people just show up to work because they have to, and where people are passionate about what they do.
“It’s about that discretionary thought, that extra magic that comes when people are so passionate about what they do.
“If you have an organisation where people know they’re not paid as well as the next person, they don’t believe their leaders have their care at heart.”
Irvine’s advice to other leaders is to work on your empathy.
“Get out of your office, go and sit down with people and have real, genuine conversations about how they’re feeling and what is happening in their lives,” he says.
“And think about yourself as a human, is that fair and right for those people? And if you fix that up, how would those people feel about putting that extra effort in for you? And I think you’ll be very pleased with the answer that you can do both things at once. It’s a win-win.”
You can listen to the Women’s Agenda interview with Stuart on the Family Friendly Workplaces podcast below.