Countdown introduces paid gender affirmation leave for transitioning employees

Experts applaud iconic store for its progressive policy

Countdown introduces paid gender affirmation leave for transitioning employees

New Zealand supermarket giant Countdown has introduced two weeks of paid gender affirmation leave to its employees across the country.

The new paid allowance is in addition to the existing two-week unpaid leave, offering staff the time and support they need to take the necessary steps to affirm their gender. Countdown was one of the first Kiwi employers to introduce a gender affirmation policy back in 2017. But the new addition of paid leave recognises the importance of supporting employees financially during this time, meaning they don’t have to dip into holiday or sick leave allowance.

Countdown’s General Manager of Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, Kiri Hannifin, said she was pleased the organisation had taken the next step.

“Gender affirmation can be difficult and complex, often involving medical appointments, surgical procedures and mental health impacts. By providing two weeks of paid leave, we can give our team the ability to look after themselves without having to worry about missing work and the pressures that can come with that,” she said.

“We’re proud to be a business that looks to develop and implement policies that make Countdown a place where our team feel free to bring their whole self to work and be who they are, where they feel safe and where they feel supported.” 

Read more: Tech firm Avanade introduces gender transition leave for employees

As well as supporting employees at Countdown, speaking openly and proudly about the new policy has an impact on the wider community too. It normalises the lived-experience of transgender or non-binary people, acknowledging that those who feel they were born in the wrong body deserve support in their transition to enable them to live life as their true selves.

Speaking to HRD, Maretha Smit, CEO at Diversity Works New Zealand, said Countdown’s paid gender affirmation leave is an “excellent example of an inclusive workplace practice”.

“When you belong to the majority group of people who are cisgender, you don't often think about that as a privilege but it's not the reality for everybody,” she said. “The estimated proportion of gender diverse people varies between 0.1 and 2%. That is staggering and is on par with the chances of being born with many other health conditions that are much more normalised.

“What Countdown has done is recognise that privilege of the cisgender majority and say how do we use our organisation to support those who don't have this as a birthright?”

Read more: Diversity Works NZ launches new framework to measure DEI in the workplace

Smit said this type of policy underlines the importance of individualised support for different groups within the workforce, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s the idea that HR should strive for equity over equality to really attract and support a diverse workforce.

“If you just look at the community of transgender and non-binary people, they have fantastic talents. They have skills in resilience, in-depth experience, and a richness they can bring to the organisation but they will be scared if they don’t feel safe and supported,” she said.

“If you can actually make that environment safe for them to bring their true selves and to be able to affirm their gender, they can be such a great asset to your organisation.”

Diversity Works NZ has recently launched a new framework, the Aotearoa Inclusivity Matrix, to measure and benchmark the maturity of DEI practices within organisations. Smit said measures like gender affirmation leave make up part of an employer’s diversity infrastructure and is something she would like to see adopted by all employers across the country.

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