Q&A: different paths, shared experience

When two people are born within a few days of each other, they can often develop shared experiences and perspectives on life’s challenges.

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One of the first people I connected with when coming to ANZ was Antonia Watson, who is now Group Executive and CEO of ANZ New Zealand. As women born three days apart just over 54 years ago, our careers have often echoed each other’s.

"But that’s tough if you're the only woman in a male-dominated team. The tendency can be to fit in and if you're trying to fit in, you're not actually providing the diversity your team needs."

And despite being very different people, we are enriched by a shared experience and have similar views on how we have overcome hurdles.

We sat down for a chat to mark International Women’s Day to recognise those shared experiences – but also to look at the road ahead.

Here’s an edited transcript of the discussion:

Maile Carnegie: The latest gender pay gap data for ANZ showed a 23.1 per cent pay gap for 2022-23, with women underrepresented in the upper quartile. How do we change this?

Antonia Watson: I remember the former ANZ CEO Mike Smith saying to me it was his job to get diversity into leadership and then that would lead to diversity on boards. And I do think there are a lot more women around in leadership roles today. But we’re still not quite there.

I recently saw some really interesting PhD research out of New Zealand that talked about the impact on women and their careers of having a family. That's one of the biggest challenges we must support women through.

Personally, I didn't have children and that possibly made it easier for me to advance in my career. But for many women, who take time off to raise their kids, it’s clear this can result in a pay gap.

At ANZ New Zealand our gender pay gap has gone from 22 per cent to 20 per cent, over the last three years of reporting. We are the best among our peers, but it's still not good enough.

The reason for the gap is we don't have as many women in senior roles in the organisation. We're at about 40 per cent in New Zealand now, but they are still lacking in these higher-paid roles.

MC:  And for the Australia Retail division, again if you look at it on like-for-like roles, we had just under a 1 per cent pay gap a couple of years ago, I think it was 0.7 per cent and last year we closed it to 0.5 per cent. And this year I think we've closed it to 0.2 per cent.

Now obviously I'm not going to say it's completely closed, but it's negligible. But for the broader organisation we do just have some areas, which are very highly paid and are very much made up by a lot of men.

What were your experiences in being a female leader needing to speak up within larger leadership groups?

AW: My leadership team in New Zealand is pretty much half-and-half. It's great because it just changes the conversation. We don’t talk about cars as much and we do start to talk about things that women actually care about.

But that’s tough if you're the only woman in a male-dominated team. The tendency can be to fit in and if you're trying to fit in, you're not actually providing the diversity your team needs.

And so, the number one thing for any leader to do is to make sure there is more than one woman in the leadership team. There is research saying that three people is a critical mass, and that gives you the comfort and confidence to speak up.

When you do speak up, you have to be authentic. That's what diversity is about. It's about different voices, different opinions.

MC:  I am 54, so at the beginning of my career it was normal to be the only woman in a leadership team. And one way I tried to get the balance right was by asking “how do I authentically - but not in an irritating way - make sure I am able to raise issues? How do I make sure my voice is heard?”.

And for me that ended up being through humour. I'm not saying that's right for everyone, think through what it is authentic about you so you can put these things forward in a way that feels natural.

You have been very vocal about how businesses can help women manage menopause and navigate this time of life when the pull away from career can be so strong.

AW: It's been a real taboo. I’ve tried to use my role to encourage conversations about menopause but for many people it’s something that's not talked about. And I am personally lucky I haven't had terribly bad menopause symptoms.

But it is important to know about it, and not be afraid to consider using things like medication, which are designed to help but have had stigmas attached to them in the past.

MC: I'm proudly on HRT (hormone replacement therapy).

AW: And Maile, I have seen you tell audiences when you’re having a hot flash and I think that's bloody brilliant. So, there's the need for education for women - but we also need to educate men, because one symptom of menopause is having more anxiety.

It helps if they understand how menopause can make you feel a bit overwhelmed and a bit insecure in the workplace. I do wonder how many women's marriages split up in their 50s, or how many women leave their careers because what they were going through was just not understood. It is crucial for us to understand and empathise.

Maile Carnegie is Group Executive of Australia Retail at ANZ

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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