Fletcher Building’s new Parental Leave Policy isn’t just a shake up of their existing status quo, it’s a shining example to other organisations.
Having taken a deep dive into the needs and experiences of those in their team — both currently and formerly — Global Women Partner, Fletcher Building, have a new gender-neutral policy that is as comprehensive as it is effective.
The policy encompasses more than just the leave itself, which offers 6 months full-paid leave to primary caregivers and four weeks paid leave for secondary caregivers while continuing with employer retirement contributions. Here, the phased return-to-work benefits are as considered as their leave: with staff being able to return to work part-time at 80% on full pay for six months, plus as receive 5 additional days of new parents leave for a year for primary and secondary carers during their first year back at work.
To talk about this shift, the process, and the effect it has had on the Fletcher Building team, Global Women joined in kōrero with Claire Carroll, Chief People Officer of Fletcher Building Limited. Here, she pulls back the curtains on her learnings, what she’s most proud of and shares some inspiring anecdotes of how it’s helped the team.
What started as reforming a parental policy has planted a seed much greater than simply aiming for equity for parents: it’s led a ripple of other D&I and support-based improvement thinking across Fletcher Building.
“Our parental leave policy was quite an important way of showing our people how serious we are about [a very inclusive culture]” — Claire Carroll, Chief People Officer, Fletcher Building Limited
What principles/north star guided you and the team when creating this policy? (Or what sparked the change?)
It was guided by our people — we knew that this was something they were looking for. It was really quite an important part of walking the talk on our diversity and inclusion strategy. So we really are aiming to foster a very inclusive culture and to also improve our gender balance.
Our parental leave policy was quite an important way of showing our people how serious we are about that. And I think they then became our guiding star, because we really spent a lot of time talking to them about what was most important in a parental leave policy for them. That was really helpful because it meant we could design it in a way that was really going to fulfil what was most important for them. They then felt really heard and very much a part of it.
[The collaborative approach] means that we could bust any myths we had or set aside some of our old fashioned ways of thinking about things. This really came through with the language that we were using around it: it’s a very gender neutral policy, and orientated to modern families and things like that. And that was really important for our people, as well as the benefits that we were providing.”
“As we were getting feedback, one of our men said his wife was able to take up a promotion at work — she doesn’t work for Fletcher Building. That feels like impact on our community”
Did any interesting/surprising learnings emerge in this process?
Probably not so surprising, but just the degree of impact and the feedback from our people saying it’s just totally changed the conversation at home [among] those of our people who are about to have a baby. They were saying how conversations at home had been all around financials and what they were going to do to be able to afford it — and now these first months are so much better, because it’s all just gone and they’re just thinking about welcoming this new member of our family. That was really nice, because you really felt like we’ve taken pressure out of the system.
The other part was transitioning back to work. We really want our people coming back after parental leave. What they were telling us is, is that first six months to a year afterwards can really make the difference. So that’s why for the first six months from returning, your work load is set at 80% but you’re paid for full time. There’s also the Additional Carers’ Leave: five days for those appointments that pop up or sickness. It’s just about creating that buffer so that it wasn’t eating into annual leave and sick leave.
As we were getting feedback, one of our men said his wife was able to take up a promotion at work — she doesn’t work for Fletcher Building. The fact that he is staying home meant that she has taken her promotion and is going back to work — that feels like impact on our community. I was really thrilled to hear that because we can’t sort of have more women progressing in the workforce if men aren’t stepping in as well. So that was a really nice and very tangible example.
“One of the things we did to prevent a challenge was being very transparent about the assumptions we made around the financial cost to the company.”
Were there any challenges or unexpected happenings along the way?
We put a huge amount of work in upfront. The HR team quietly in the background really does a lot of work, so by the time we got to the executive, it was really well supported.
One of the things we did to prevent a challenge was being very transparent about the assumptions we made around the financial cost to the company. It’s hard: how do you really know how many women and men are going to take it up? After all, we want them to — that’s why we’re putting [it] in place.
I think one of the ways that we got over that was, we made some assumptions based on the New Zealand and Australia demographics (it’s a trans-Tasman policy) and how many people actually take parental leave as primary and secondary caregivers.
That was reassuring for decision makers, and I have to say, the senior leadership of the company has been extremely supportive. I give a lot of credit to my team for that, because, it’s like anything: you put the work in upfront and it goes smoothly.
“The key thing… has just been how freeing it is [for staff] to be able to just focus on your family.”
What’s the feedback been like, overall?
There’s been really lovely feedback. I think the key thing around it has just been how freeing it is [for staff] to be able to just focus on your family and getting excited and not having that sort of pressure and stress on your mind. There’s definitely a theme around our people feeling really valued [and] protected. We really haven’t had that sort of cynicism that you can get.
Particularly, I’ve been pleased that those of our people who have long past had a family — their children have grown up, they have grandchildren, and those who probably never would think about having a family — they’re really pleased that we’re doing it.
“It’s created a really nice conversation internally. I feel like it’s symbolically a really important step forward for us as a company for the diversity and inclusion, but actually just more broadly caring about our people.”
We haven’t actually used any sort of traditional language: it’s been why we went down the “primary secondary career” route, and didn’t create assumptions around who that is most likely to be or not be. And I think [it’s been positive for] the dads as well. I think, because mums and dads as the secondary carer often appease. So for the mothers who would prefer to be secondary carers, the fact that there is still leave there for them [in this policy] is important.
I think how responsive the organisation has been through all levels, I think it shows how much we’ve grown as a company.
So I think those would be the key themes, and it’s created a really nice conversation internally. Symbolically a really important step forward for us as a company for diversity and inclusion — but actually just more broadly caring about our people.
“We haven’t actually used any sort of traditional language”
What advice would you give others looking to implement a similar policy?
I think my learning was the value of really talking to our people. I think that was really helpful, because when you’re selling to your senior team, you’re able to really bring an emotion to the table as well.
On the balance, being transparent and realistic about the assumed cost — because I think by us being very clear about it, it meant that there wasn’t any oxygen taken out in debating that. It allowed us to focus on realistic assumptions and figuring out what we want, as opposed to anguishing through weeks of “have we assumed the right cost?!”
But I think primarily it was getting out to our people and bringing them into the room when we were talking and just what an impact that had made. Ross has been getting lovely emails from our people, and that’s been really nice, because then he gets a sense that it is having the impact that he and I wanted it to have.
“When the feedback was coming back [from employees], we knew who we’d asked and why we’d asked them.”
As for the routes and pipelines through which Fletcher Building engaged their staff through…
It was a mix: we did some focus groups, we did a survey, and we surveyed people who had left the organisation. We also used our employee action group and equality network.
We segmented the sorts of people we wanted to get feedback from: people who had taken parental leave and returned, had not returned, people who were thinking of taking parental leave and those who were not even thinking about it yet. So when the feedback was coming back, we knew who we’d asked and why we’d asked them — so that was helpful.
It helped us get a balance, particularly on things like the transitioning back to work and the extra leave and the retirement, making sure that the retirement savings continued. It also helped us tailor our communications on the way back round. It was kind of: ‘This is what you said you’re after, and this is how we’ve addressed it.’
For Claire, this isn’t simply a win for Fletcher Building, but rather anyone committed to shifting the dial:
I think it helps other HR teams, because they go, ‘oh, okay, so this is what they did,’ and it gives them a bit of oxygen for their arguments as they’re going to argue for these sorts of policies. I think it helps when you can point to other organisations.
It’s also been a crucial stepping stone in opening the aperture to other diversity matters:
We [in October] announced our gender affirmation, leave and transitioning guidelines. It’s really nice to be able to show our community that we’re thinking of them. These things build on each other and people: it’s building up really good trust that we’re doing what we say we will.