Focusing on growth at the top

It is normal human behavior when confronted with a crisis to revert to what you know.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

We’ve seen this clearly at a leadership level when just one female was appointed as CEO to an ASX200 company in the past year.

"There is a risk in making diversity out to be too hard… because actually it isn't that difficult.”

ANZ’s exec team is gender balanced – 50:50 female/male – not because we focused on a target but because we hired the best talent for the job. For us, this is about more than a target and it's made us a better company.

However, according to the 2020 Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX200 Senior Executive Census, progress in the number of women reaching senior leadership positions in ASX200 companies has flat-lined. This begs the question are we creating too narrow a field for the types of roles deemed a suitable line into an executive position? My personal belief is we are.

Despite the obviously disappointing results of the CEW Census, I believe we should also focus on the positives. Pressure for change is having an impact in society. Investors are drawing lines around unacceptable behavior and calling out companies for the need for change on many issues.

We need to have the same intensity when discussing diversity and gender equality.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

Focus on solutions

There is a risk in making diversity too hard if we only focus on the negatives because actually it isn't that difficult. We need to be committed this is important, as an industry and as employers, just like we do with other essential issues.

Good companies with good cultures and leaders actually look for new solutions to problems rather than relying on the supposed safety of the past but there are varying degrees of maturity and commitment throughout society to make this change.

I personally come across very few male executives who truly don't care about diversity. In fact, there are a lot who struggle with, and are frustrated by, their own inability to make real change. At the end of the day, pushing for diversity is actually about cultural change. Of course, companies have to change policies on parental leave and super (amongst others) to enable change. But if you don't embrace the cultural aspect and become inherently flexible and adaptable to today's needs, you'll inevitably fail.

Too many people are looking for the silver bullet - what's the answer, the policy, the thing I'm supposed to do to get there - as opposed to admitting that change is a grind. There is no one thing to fix a lack of diversity.

It’s about shaping a culture that cares and says diversity is just as important as the health and safety of our people. It's just as important as delivering good outcomes for customers and shareholders. In fact, it’s aligned with those things and the more we talk about it, the better. It's okay to be frustrated, and it’s okay to feel like we're not making enough progress, but we've got to keep pushing.

Focus on growth

I accept some companies will use models from the past for filling leadership roles but that's probably not going to be appropriate for a future world when we think about the challenges we will inevitably face.

At ANZ, we have embraced the growth mindset concept and thinking about people in terms of their potential to solve problems, to understand, to read changes and then act on them.

As a bank, when you think about what executives actually do for a living and the resources available, it really comes down to people and technology. That's what customers actually buy from banks. For me, having executives who understand that and know how to utilise those resources effectively are the factors of success. Don’t simply look at people based on what they did in a previous role, look at their potential.

But of course, like others, ANZ had to go through the same periods of managing cultural change to get to this point. From periods of denial that we didn't have a problem to periods of frustration that we weren’t making enough progress. Eventually we got to periods of elation and feeling like we are doing something good. But we continue to go through all of those cycles and I imagine we will continue to do so. That’s just another element of trying to have a growth mindset.

The changes that all jobs and industries are going through is happening at a rapid pace. So successful companies need people who can embrace this change.

If a leader can't attract, retain and drive value from a diverse team - and I mean that in the broadest sense of the term diversity – to me, it's a flag you're probably not the kind of person who's going to be successful at navigating change in the future.

Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ

This article is based on Elliott’s responses to a panel session at the CEW Census report launch. You can watch the launch event in full here.

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

editor's picks

08 Mar 2019

IWD2019: busting gender preconceptions in Hong Kong

Ivy Au Yeung | Chief Executive Officer ANZ Hong Kong

Women in Hong Kong aren’t just leaving work to look after the family, new research has shown.

20 Oct 2016

It’s time to ‘man up’ for gender parity

Alex Kewley | Director, Client Insights & Solutions, ANZ

I recently sat on a panel discussing gender diversity composed of bankers, consultants, Google employees, economists and a room full of European Business School students.

19 Jun 2015

Gender balance in boardrooms – canapés or childcare?

Catherine Fox | Journalist and author

It was hard to ignore the talk of paid parenting leave and childcare costs in Australia with federal budget announcements about changing the system and those calls to stop 'double dipping' from employer childcare schemes.