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Innovating people policy to reap the benefits of diversity

02 May 2019

Justine Carmichael, Smartgroup’s Chief Human Resources Officer, shares how the modernisation of parental leave policy is the first step in ensuring diversity is not just a box-ticking exercise.

What is Smartgroup’s approach to people policies?

We see our people as our competitive differentiator, so our people policies need to work in harmony to attract the best talent and keep the best talent.

We also see a real shift in terms of the obligations of employers; that we have a broader expectation placed upon us to contribute as a community member and our parental leave policy has been redeveloped looking through that lens.

We’re also growing up as an organisation. We started as a very small company and had great success, but now’s the time to take our place as one of the leading employers in Australia, not only from a market perspective but also as an employer of choice. We want to be recognised as an employer that values people and really leads the way in how we recognise and reward our people.

This is the first major policy innovation for you in your role as CHRO at Smartgroup. Why start with parental leave?

Our parental leave policy was out of date: it was tenure based and belonged to a different time. We knew that in the Australian market we were lagging, but we also had an eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the world. I know from working with Scandinavian companies that the shift is coming and having a more equitable, fair and competitive parental leave policy will become commonplace in Australia. We wanted to lead the way and ensure there was a good benefit in place, not only benchmarking against Australian employers but against what the rest of the world was doing as well.

What are the most notable aspects of the new parental leave policy?

Increasing the paid parental leave benefit to become one of Australia’s leading employers in that area is something we’re particularly proud of. The paid component also extends to secondary carers which is often ignored or given lesser importance.

The other thing we’ve done is to commit to paying superannuation for employees who take up our parental leave, even when they’re off the paid component of that leave. Very few employers do that, and we know it’s important for primary care givers – which are not always, but still usually women – because traditionally we take career breaks and superannuation is something you can never catch up on. So really trying to address that imbalance with super has been one of the key pillars of this policy.

Who did you look to as a benchmark? Which organisations stand-out in the market place?

We benchmarked widely, looking at both multinational corporations and smaller Australian companies as well, so we got a comprehensive feel of what other employers - our competitors in the labour market - are doing in this space.

We chose not to mimic or copy any of them, but to take the pieces we felt would be the most beneficial to the people of Smartgroup. That’s why we chose to focus on the superannuation piece, which very few employers do.

So, it was about choosing the best bits of a number of policies, but also making it our own, in a way that would best serve our team members.

You mention policies working synergistically, what are some of the other policies that fall into this area?

There are three areas we have in our sights for development, and the first is how our employees learn and grow. That isn’t just a training and development policy but giving employees the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential at Smartgroup and beyond Smartgroup.

We’re also looking at implementing more innovative reward and recognition practices that reflect the values of our employees in a non-traditional way.

And the third area is flexibility at work. Diversity is so important to us at Smartgroup and we want to enable people to contribute to their fullest, by embracing the different backgrounds we have and the needs we have in our daily lives. This goes well beyond offering part-time work or the opportunity to work from home; it’s about embracing flexibility to attract people that may have found even coming into the job market quite hard because they don’t have the nine-to-five availability employers still expect.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and will face as you continue to innovate in the people policy space.

I think that’s an important point: not to do this and walk away and say we’ve done it; that box is ticked. We need to keep looking at not only this policy, and the practices that surround it, but how it works with everything else in terms of our total employee value proposition.

I’d like to think everyone here can say, “This is great - we should treat people with families like this.” But we want everyone at Smartgroup to feel like that: that there’s something that makes it great for them. So we need to have that harmonised circle of programs and policies and practices so everyone can say, “This is why I work here. This is what I value about working at Smartgroup.”