We learn more about the a2 Milk Company’s family-friendly initiatives and policies aimed at supporting parents, carers and women, thanks to our partnership with Family Friendly Workplaces.
One of the first things team members see on The a2 Milk Company (a2MC) CEO David Bortolussi’s desk is a black and white photo of his family. As Chief People and Culture Office Amanda Hart says, the photograph is symbolic and sets the tone of the organisation from the very top.
Family-friendly policies start with family- friendly leadership, Hart says. “It’s primarily about igniting the conversation with your most senior leaders first and foremost, to establish the acknowledgement of need, and from there it supports the influence that needs to be done to get decisions made,” she says.
The a2 Milk Company’s NZ beginnings
The a2 Milk Company was founded in New Zealand in the year 2000 on the recognition that not all milk is the same. Today a2MC produces a portfolio of products made with milk from specially selected cows that naturally produce milk containing only A2-type beta-casein protein and no A1, allowing more consumers to enjoy its unique digestive and other potential health benefits.
Twenty three years later, the company has expanded to four countries around the world, with around 470 workers in Australia, New Zealand, China and the US. One of their largest customer bases is under 12 months old, with a2 Platinum® infant milk formula providing a core revenue stream. But even as a business serving families worldwide, when Amanda Hart commenced her role as Chief People and Culture Officer at the company in September 2021, there was an opportunity to enhance the family-oriented benefits and policies for team members.
“It was evident that we had a real part to play in supporting our people and promoting a family-friendly workplace globally,” she says.
With the support of the leadership team at a2MC, Hart helped develop family-friendly policies that go beyond the stereotypical nuclear family.
“A family-friendly workplace is one in which any person in our team – irrespective of their family profile or where they’re at in their life journey – feels the environment that they work in is aware of what some of their needs or limitations may be,” Hart says. “For us, a family-friendly workplace is being attuned to each of our team members as individuals. They have their own challenges and narratives and we need to ensure that we’re acknowledging that through working rhythms, how we do our work, the benefits that we offer, the flexibility that’s needed to ensure that everyone can be their authentic selves. It may well be that (family- friendly) doesn’t involve a child necessarily, or a parent, it’s whatever you translate family to meaning for you.”
Among their primary and secondary paid parental leave policies – 18 weeks for the ‘primary’ carer and four weeks for the ‘secondary’ carer – a2MC introduced further support for all family types in 2021 and 2022. They introduced early pregnancy loss leave, offering up to ten days of paid leave, as well as late-stage pregnancy loss leave that matches the parental leave policy. a2MC has also introduced neonatal leave, giving an additional four weeks to new parents prior to the paid parental leave. After establishing these policies, it was time to expand.
“This year, we’ve really looked at what needs to be done to support other team members who are at a different stage in their journey, and it doesn’t just pertain to people that are in that childbearing stage,” Hart explained.
In March 2023, a2MC introduced women’s health leave for supporting people experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, menopause and severe endometriosis, as well as people going through fertility and IVF treatments. “That was to continue to evolve where we’re placing our focus from a more traditional paid leave perspective, but equally raises awareness,” Hart says. “Thirty per cent of our workforce is aged between 40 and 65. So we knew that was a huge area for our people and that needed to be addressed through the programs and the initiatives that we offer.”
The a2 Milk Company measures the success of their policies based on how the leave is used, as well as surveys of team members. And so far, the results have been positive.
“When women’s health leave was launched, I got inundated with emails from men and women across the business saying how proud they were, how relevant and how transformational this offering was,” Hart said.
But there have been some areas of their family-friendly workplace policies that Hart and some of her colleagues believe need improvement. With a workforce at near gender parity, where 53 per cent of workers are women, Hart aspires to remove the ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ labels from paid parental leave and instead grant the same amount of leave to all parents.
“In a perfect world, I would want to have paid parental leave as being a generic term where we have equal opportunity for the utilisation of leave, irrespective of how you gender identify. We’re not there yet…I’d really like to turn the dial on that, but it may take some time.”
And in the process of implementing the family-friendly policies, the a2MC leadership team faced a small amount of pushback, largely from the workforce in the US, a country that is at a very different point on paid parental leave.
“Initially, when we launched paid parental leave, the US team was resistant,” Hart said. “It was very different for them. (Most companies) don’t offer paid parental leave in the US. But ultimately we got where we needed to, which is global consistency.”
Now, the whole global a2MC team have consistent, family-friendly workplace policies, and even for places like the US, where these policies seem somewhat unfamiliar, Hart said it’s becoming increasingly normalised within the company “I think it’s actually just part of our DNA, to be honest,” she says.
Olivia Cleal, originally published on Women’s Agenda