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Promoting women remains a challenge for corporate Australia

“Progress of women into the most senior leadership roles across Australia’s top companies has gone backwards in the past year.”


The progress of women into the most senior leadership roles in Australia’s top companies has gone backwards in the past year, with fewer gender-balanced leadership teams.


Alarmingly, around two thirds of ASX300 companies and around half of ASX100 companies have no women in line roles (profit and loss management), the roles from which most CEO appointments are made.


These findings are in the 2022 Chief Executive Women (CEW) Senior Executive Census report and provide sobering reading.


It’s difficult to determine why this has occurred. Perhaps it’s due to COVID-19 when many parents, particularly women, prioritised home schooling, combined with unjustifiable distractions among Australian corporates creating less focus on balancing gender in executive leadership teams.


Overcoming barriers 


I recently had the privilege of discussing these issues at CEW’s Leadership Summit alongside an esteemed panel of female senior leaders.


Representing various industries including healthcare, energy and government, panellists shared their experiences of successfully overcoming roadblocks when looking for promotion into line roles.


Zak Hammer, ASIC’s Executive Director of Operations, explained she had to prove herself multiple times after returning from parental leave – a structural roadblock to which many women can relate. Companies must consider ways to help by removing both personal and organisational barriers.



Pictured: Kate Munnings, CEO Virtus Health, and Isaac Rankin, at the CEW Leadership Summit


That’s something we are focused on. In addition to enterprise-wide diversity and inclusion programs, each division at ANZ often takes a bespoke approach and tailors initiatives to suit their individual team needs.


Last year in Commercial and Private Banking, we experienced a drop in the number of women in leadership roles. An immediate effort was made to understand the drivers and reinvigorate the discussion about gender equality and our ongoing commitment to flexible working which began in 2015.


Around 330 ANZ leaders pledged to address perceived capability and capacity gaps and focus on initiatives such as mentorships and secondments to create a more balanced talent pipeline.


Since then, the number of women in leadership roles in Commercial and Private Banking has increased almost 3 per cent, including an almost 12 per cent increase in Business Banking.


While it’s been positive to create some momentum, there’s more work to do to understand the problem we’re trying to solve.


Looking ahead


Through focus groups ANZ employees shared some factors that impact career progression or retention. Key areas of feedback included flexible work, career breaks and the importance of visible role models.

To address the feedback, which has informed our 2023 priorities, and promote greater leadership opportunities for women in Commercial Banking, we’ve launched a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy. This includes several initiatives to support flexible working arrangements and create opportunities to learn from others’ experiences.

Pleasingly, many examples across the division have proved the value of creating flexibility and promoting more women into line roles. In Brisbane, a job -share arrangement has provided two female small business bankers with the opportunity to focus on priorities outside work while continuing to deliver great service to customers.

This arrangement prevented early retirement for one employee and the loss of valuable business knowledge and customer relationships for ANZ.

Four lessons

My advice to organisations looking to increase diversity in leaderships teams is to firstly understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

Talk with your employees about their experiences and the barriers they’re facing. Make it a priority for your management team to solve the challenges they raise.

Lastly, it’s important to articulate the benefits of diversity. We’ve seen a range of personal and commercial benefits including higher customer satisfaction ratings. Work hard to show your teams diversity is a win-win for all.

Isaac Rankin is Managing Director of Commercial and Private Banking at ANZ

ANZ is proud to be Thought Leadership Partner of Chief Executive Women


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