Good intentions not enough for diversity and inclusion

At ANZ, we know true diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workforce leads to more engaged people, a greater understanding of our wide customer bases and a better reputation in the community.

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Pic (L-R): Lesley Grant (Qantas), Kathryn van der Merwe (ANZ), Michael Vavakis (Lendlease), Anna Green (BCG)

These are all benefits for an organisation’s purpose - but also its bottom line.

" Diversity and inclusion is a crucial business input but as a business discipline, more needs to be done”

And while it can be difficult to measure the success of these non-financial elements, it can be done. That means D&I initiatives can and should be treated like any other business investment.

The challenge is that companies, historically, have not been very good at measuring this impact which means these initiatives are not factored into strategies to anywhere the near the degree they should be.

Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently launched new research into the intent and success of purposeful D&I initiatives and asked me to speak on their launch panel with representatives from Qantas and Lendlease.

BCG’s research found that although D&I programs are quite common in Australian companies, most employees don’t feel they personally benefit from them. These employees have limited understanding of the scope of the programs and what they are for. And perspective matters: different people understand programs differently (we should intuitively appreciate that, at least).

Tailored approach

As head of Talent & Culture at ANZ, some of this resonated with me and some was a wake-up call. I believe as a company we do a good job of understanding and responding to different perspectives but we don’t specifically measure whether employees feel they benefit from our programs.

We know D&I is a crucial business input but as a business discipline, more needs to be done.

The BCG research recommends a four-step employee-centric approach:

1. Understand your context - run diagnostic exercises to understand your company’s D&I baseline and design a scorecard to set your goals for progress.

2. Reimagine your program - engage a diverse group of employees to find the right solutions for your organisation’s environment and people.

3. Test, learn, and iterate - do not “set and forget” these programs; test and learn to find out what works and iterate to continue improving.

4. Track and share - track any progress against the scorecard and share progress widely.

I don’t disagree with this approach although each company needs to tailor it for their own workforce and culture, their industry and the role they play in society.

At ANZ for example, I think we use our strong employee networks such as ANZ’s LGBTIQ+ community very successfully. ANZ’s Pride Network was founded in 2007 and is a voice, contact point and support mechanism for our LGBTIQ+ people and allies globally.

The Pride Network immediately drove cultural change, spearheading the bank’s involvement in Mardi Gras that same year. Back in 2007, sponsoring and marching in Mardi Gras was considered a risky move for a corporate but we are now the Principal Partner of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, having been a sponsor and participant since 2007. The network also works with the business to influence and shape new bank-wide policies and training.

Another space where we’ve taken good intentions and turned them into great deeds is in disability advocacy. By providing the right support, we can help autistic people build meaningful and fulfilling careers through our Spectrum program.

The program has also helped recruit the right people for in-demand skills in areas like cybersecurity, coding and testing. In partnership with, the three year Spectrum program is a commitment to recruit and train autistic individuals using an approach best-suited to their needs to support their professional development.


One of the challenges, particularly for large companies, is to have a consistent - if not uniform - approach to the business imperatives of D&I programs.

We recently established day-long employee network workshops bringing together the leaders of our various employee networks to create an opportunity for them to learn, connect and feel recognised and valued. We also ran resilience and wellbeing sessions for them too.

At the research launch, the panel agreed there is simply not enough rigour around D&I initiatives. Organisations don’t know what they’re spending and impacts are not being sufficiently measured. There is no focus on the return on investment (ROI), something which wouldn’t be accepted for any other business initiative.

Other panellists also shared examples of the challenges they have faced tackling the business imperatives of D&I.

ANZ isn’t unique when it comes to these challenges.

On the panel with me, Group Executive - People, Culture and Corporate Affairs for Qantas, Lesley Grant, discussed the experience of both the company and CEO Alan Joyce during the marriage equality debate in 2017.

Critically, this high-profile position was demanded from Qantas by employees, customers and shareholders. Although Grant acknowledged they did receive some negative feedback, overwhelmingly it was positive highlighting the changing role of corporate social responsibility and corporates stepping in to breach the gap of government inaction.

With a non-traditional human resources background, Lesley uses her unique perspective of customer segmentation and customer experience and applies it to employees. She believes one day customer experience and employee experience will be the same team.

Lesley emphasises better data-driven decision making together with assessing impact and ROI is needed in human resources. However data and analytics are not everything. Qantas’ executive team are often involved in focus groups to hear real stories and lived experiences to help them better understand their customers and employees.

Our other panellist, Chief People Officer at Lendlease, Michael Vavakis, described the company’s focus on committing to diversity of thought, experience and perspectives in their teams to better understand client needs.

In construction, introducing flexibility creates unique challenges - you can’t pour concrete from home. This means planning is required from the very beginning of a project to be built into the costing, timing and customer expectations - but he emphasises it can be done.

Collective effort

At ANZ, we’re alert to the old saying: what gets measured, gets done. As the research found, perception can be different from reality so data collection and transparency are important.

A risk in D&I is having passionate people focusing on too many things which means the impact is less than you might get from a collective effort. We have key targets at ANZ and discussions on how we are tracking are part of our monthly executive meeting with our CEO, Shayne Elliott. It’s also built into our executive and leaders’ scorecards which means the progress impacts our performance and remuneration outcomes.

Companies need to be careful when setting targets as they can have unintended consequences. However, having a target ensures everyone is clear about what is expected of them and can work towards a common goal.

Kathryn van der Merwe is Group Executive – Talent & Culture at ANZ.

The full report from BCG can be found here.


The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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