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More than a word, reconciliation takes action

“Commit to listening, learning and being curious.” Kathryn van der Merwe.


This design, by creative director Marcus Lee, visualizes five outer shapes which represent thriving people and communities, reflecting ANZ’s five values of – Integrity, Collaboration, Accountability, Respect and Excellence.

At ANZ we are encouraged to have a growth mindset.


That means listening more than talking, asking rather than telling, being curious and – importantly – continuously reflecting on what we do, how we do it, and where we can improve.


These behaviours are reflected in the approach taken in developing ANZ’s 2021-24 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).


I recently sat down with Kathryn van der Merwe, Group Executive Talent & Culture and Executive Sponsor for ANZ’s RAP to discuss the importance of organisations like ANZ having a RAP and what can be expected from our 2021-24 plan.


Amelia Caldwell: Why is it so important for ANZ to have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and what exactly does it mean for our customers, employees, shareholders and the community?


Kath van der Merwe: For me, it's a bit of a no brainer [to have a RAP] because it comes right back to our purpose, to shape a world where people and communities thrive, our strategy which is about improving financial wellbeing and how we marry what we do as a bank and a business to improve the financial wellbeing of all of our customers and their communities.


Our circle of influence means we can play a huge role in progressing positive relationships between Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider community. And given we employ more than 27,000 people and serve millions of customers in Australia, we have a responsibility to do that.


From a small business perspective, we also have the ability to lean in and create meaningful impact in what is a growing and vibrant part of the economy, but often needs additional support. And because of the nature of the work we do as a bank, reaching out to the community, improving financial wellbeing and helping small businesses to thrive is such a natural alignment.


Amelia Caldwell: Can you provide some insights from the ANZ 2021 to 2024 RAP in terms of commitments?


Kath van der Merwe: We have reflected deeply on our past RAPs – where we’ve delivered and where we can do better.


Looking back, we have made great progress over the last 13 years [since our first RAP]; we've hosted more than 1,300 trainees in our branch network and we've increased our spend with Indigenous organisations. Last year alone, more than $4,000,000 of our spend was to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suppliers.


We have also increased our focus on education and learning. More than 10,000 of our staff have completed our online Indigenous Cultural Learning which we’ve also made available to the public through our website. More recently, we started working with BlackCard to run cultural awareness sessions across our workforce in Australia.


I’m extremely proud of ANZ’s contributions to date, but we know we can do more. Our new Stretch RAP is demonstration that we are truly committed to the plan and are holding ourselves to account.


We have put a great deal of thought into what our priorities and commitments should be and there's been a genuine commitment from the outset that this cannot be a tick-the-box exercise; we want to make sure we have a meaningful impact. 


Moving forward, we are focusing on four key areas:


  • Improving our understanding of Indigenous culture to create culturally safe spaces and really dialling up showing respect and combatting racism. For example, we want our people to understand the importance of an Acknowledgment of Country and why we do it.


  • Providing employment and career progression to enable economic participation – not just bringing people in, but investing in nurturing and developing leaders.


  • Improving the financial wellbeing of individuals to develop financial resilience – this is at the heart of our purpose.


  • Building the capacity of Indigenous business and organisations to enable economic participation. We want to support people to start and grow businesses and invest in organisations that employ Aboriginal and Torres Islander people – to invest in a flow-on effect.


We have some great programs already, but we want to make sure they’re really targeted towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way.


Amelia Caldwell: Could you talk more about ANZ’s vision for the workforce with regards to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees?


Kath van der Merwe: As ANZ’s Group Executive for Talent & Culture as well as sponsor for our RAP, this is an area that is particularly close to my heart.


Our focus historically has been on hiring, often into our branch network. But we really need to ensure we have appropriate representation at our leadership levels as well.


So we’re turning our focus towards ensuring we create an environment where new Indigenous employees can really develop and grow, and feel a great sense of inclusion and belonging.


Diversity is something we value deeply at ANZ and having employees that represent the voices of our communities is vital to delivering on our purpose. And while the short-term benefits of increasing Indigenous representation across our workforce are quite direct – for the people we recruit and also for ANZ through the talent we gain – the most meaningful and long-term benefits are far greater reaching.


So for us, it’s not just about bringing in new talent at entry levels and building a talent pipeline, it’s about continuing to ask ourselves, “how can we be doing more to mentor, develop and support our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees throughout their careers?”


Amelia Caldwell: If people could do one thing to contribute to reconciliation, what action would you recommend they do?


Kath van der Merwe: Commit to listening, learning and being curious.


It doesn’t sound impactful, but I remember going along to my first RAP meeting [as the Executive Sponsor] with genuine trepidation that I would say the wrong thing or offend somebody without meaning to.


That in and of itself was a really important reflection for me, because it's actually not good enough for that to be an excuse. It kicked off for me a learning journey that not only improved my awareness, and my sensitivity and confidence, but it was a turning point.


I connected in a very personal and meaningful way and I've developed a personal conviction around the importance of this.


At ANZ, we provide access to resources like training and courses, but our people are also on our internal social channels and actively sharing and discussing books, documentaries, films, articles and podcasts.


Another thing people can do is to commit to doing an Acknowledgment of Country.


At the start it might feel uncomfortable because you might not be sure if what you are saying is right. But discomfort is a good thing, it shows it’s an area in which you need to invest the time to practise and develop your understanding to be able to do it in a way that feels more natural and comfortable.


So, I think there's lots people can do and I’m looking forward to working with ANZ employees and our community over the next three years to make meaningful differences.


Mob talking


Ngarga Wanggadja – it means “mob talking” in the language of the Nurungga people, and was the name chosen for the employee reference group formed to represent the voices of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander employees at ANZ.


Ngarga Wangaddja is formal part of ANZ’s RAP Governance Structure.


Chair and co-founder, Taungurung man Alex Burns says learning from and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees is a huge gap in many organisations.


“Ngarga Wangaddja is one of the more progressive things I’ve seen in corporate Australia when it comes to reconciliation efforts” says Alex.


As well as being Chair for Ngarga Wangaddja, Alex also sits on the RAP Working group and steering committee. This ensures an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice is represented at all levels not just for now but for the future.


Amelia Caldwell: Thanks for your time Kath, would you like to leave our readers with any last thoughts?


Kath van der Merwe: As a nation, there’s no doubt we have a long way to go and ANZ’s RAP is our commitment to play our part. Reconciliation looks different for everyone.


We can think about it as an end destination, but we can also think about it as a journey that we will continue to reflect on throughout our ongoing national history.


Conclusion: Amelia


There are lots of ways people can contribute to reconciliation and I would encourage everyone to think about what they can do to in their workplaces and communities.


Whether it’s knowing the place names of a favourite walking track, learning the full history of your home town, or watching one of the many documentaries on free-to-air networks or streaming services; you don’t need to do something big. The important thing is to do something, and know that when it comes from a personal place, your actions can be deeply impactful.


Amelia Caldwell is a Digital Advisory Analyst, ANZ and the co-founder and Deputy Chair of Ngarga Wangaddja.


At ANZ, we believe in working together to celebrate differences and create an equitable future where all of our communities thrive.


For more information, visit Indigenous Australians or refer to our Diversity and Inclusion policy.

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