“A key thing for us is that we want to create a fantastic environment here at Coles for all of our team members to feel welcomed and included. When you feel like you belong, and you feel that you’re part of a team, you’re able to bring your true self to work and you’ll actually enjoy work much more.
“Not only that, but we want to send a signal that Coles will support them through what is an incredibly difficult period of their lives.”
Hawkins is a co-chair on Coles’ Pride Steering Committee, a private network within the business that provides support to staff members that need to talk to someone in the LGBTQIA+ community with lived experience. The group also helps drive progressive actions within Coles.
The issue became particularly relevant to Hawkins once she understood just how at risk people transitioning are: not because they are transgender or gender diverse, Hawkins said, but because of the way they are treated.
According to LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, transgender and gender diverse people aged between 14 and 25 are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, and are 80 per cent more likely to self harm.
“It’s about how these people are being seen, and whether or not they feel like they belong or not,” Hawkins said.
“I have a transgender son, so I have a really deep appreciation and understanding of what this space is like, and how hard it can be for people.”
And, as Australia saw during the recent federal election, the transgender community is regularly used as a talking point by politicians, generally on the basis that transgender people should be further marginalised.
Throughout the recent election campaign, Liberal party candidate Katherine Deves described trans children as being “surgically mutilated and sterilised”, and former Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by her comments at the time.
Nicky Bath, chief executive of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, recently called for the country’s political leaders to “urgently” rethink the way they discuss transgender people.
“Trans and gender diverse people are not political footballs and conversations need to be led by experts in appropriate forums with care and understanding,” Bath said.
Co-workers also gain support
As part of their support of trans staff, Coles ensures that other team members are educated and aware of the transition and what it involves, giving them an opportunity to ask any questions.
“We talk to our store managers, and let them talk to other store managers that have already supported someone through the process to give them help, and we do team talks as well,” Hawkins said.
“If someone has always known someone by a particular name, and then that changes, that can be difficult for staff to get used to. Our experience is that our younger staff members are very embracing of diversity and understand these kinds of issues quickly, but some team members need a bit of time to adjust.”
Supporting staff is “critical”
Coles isn’t the first supermarket in Australia to introduce paid gender affirmation leave, as Woolworths implemented it about a year ago, but the move sends a signal of inclusion to its employees and the community at large.
PwC Australia’s director for diversity, inclusion and wellbeing Andrew Tran told Inside Retail progressive leave options are incredibly important for workers to feel valued by their employers.
“In my view, it’s critical for employers to support any person who chooses the transition and affirm their gender while working at their organisation,” Tran said.
“No one should ever have to leave their job for fear of having a conversation with their team.”
According to Tran, PwC offers up to 15 days of paid gender affirmation leave, as well as access to psychological support and a $1650 clothing allowance.
“Transitions are stressful, and we need to ensure the person is supported throughout the process,” Tran said.
HR and diversity expert Cathy Ngo added that not only do progressive measures help a staff member bond to a workplace, but that, in such a tight labour market, it’s a relatively low cost way to attract and retain staff.
“Employers may be thinking they can’t afford measures like this, but it’s important to understand that, most of the time, the benefits will outweigh the costs,” Ngo told Inside Retail.
“However, organisations should only introduce [mechanisms] like this if they have the leadership and culture to support any uptake. Otherwise it’d just be lip service.”
If you would like to understand more about sexuality, gender, bodies and relationships, QLife provides free peer support and referrals. Call them on 1800 184 527, or visit the website here.