Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer says the bank will continue pushing for greater gender equality after announcing that 50 per cent of leadership positions at the bank are held by women.
Westpac set the target in 2012 that women should hold half its leadership roles by 2017 and is the only big bank or ASX20 company to set such a target and achieve it. Westpac’s leadership group comprises about 5900 people and includes senior executives, general managers and those managing more than three people, call centre managers and assistant branch managers, who were added to the definition last year.
In an exclusive interview with The Australian Financial Review before a speech in Sydney announcing the achievement, Mr Hartzer said he wants to turn the bank into a “talent factory” that attracts the best female executives in the country.
Westpac’s next focus for gender equity will be the board of directors and group executive, he said, where women comprise only 22 per cent and 36 per cent respectively, and technology roles.
In a significant boost to its talent pipeline Westpac has more than doubled women senior managers, two levels below CEO, to 44 per cent, from 21 per cent in 2010.
Westpac’s former chief executive Gail Kelly announced in 2012 that the bank would aim to have 50 per cent of leadership positions filled by women by 2017 after it had achieved its target of 40 per cent in 2012.
Mr Hartzer, who took over as chief executive in 2015, said that setting a target had forced the bank to find ways to remove barriers to ensure that women would be recruited and promoted.
“There’s something about setting a target that it gnaws at you and you try to figure out what we need to do [to reach it]. It’s been about understanding what the barriers are to women being more successful and how do we remove those barriers.”
Westpac changed its processes to ensure that: recruitment shortlists always include one woman, jobs are flexible, women are placed in operational roles, and women are employed from outside banking. It has also systematically trained staff in unconscious bias and inclusive leadership, and ensures diversity goals are part of key performance indicators which have an impact on pay.
“We are not done and we are not claiming we are done,” said Mr Hartzer. “We have more work to do on the board; I have more work to do in my executive team, the most senior general managers, but we have made great progress.
“We think it is significant for Australian business, so we feel like it is a milestone we are celebrating and we’re not saying we don’t have more to do.
“You are talking about 3000 women in the company who are either a senior leader or managing significant numbers of people, which is why for us this is a big deal.”
He said he had few complaints from men that they were being discriminated against.
“I haven’t had too many people courageous enough to raise that with me. And to the extent we ever hear it we say, ‘Good news! We are reserving half the roles for you, too.’
“I am unapologetic about the fact that we are taking a stand on this…It makes us a better company, it’s important for the country and it’s important for companies like Westpac to take a leadership role on it because it’s good for the economy in general.
“If this means more great women want to come and work at Westpac than somewhere else, then good. And hopefully that will encourage other companies to develop their women.”
Shortlist is crucial
Mr Hartzer said female senior managers are often clustered in functional roles, such as human resources, legal and marketing positions rather than operational roles with profit and loss responsibility. To tackle that, Westpac rotates women into operational roles more often. “We have worked really hard on that…That still tends to be a factor in business generally.
“It’s about rotating people into other roles. We are trying to supplement people’s skills and training to create the pathways for them to start to move more into what I think of as business roles, rather than functional roles.”
Also crucial was ensuring that there were women on every shortlist for senior roles. “I am very strong on this idea that you always have to have a woman on the shortlist. I wouldn’t describe it as hard, but I would describe it as requiring continued discipline and focus and from time to time I have to say, ‘Sorry, where is the woman on the short list?’ “
Recruiters have to be prodded, he said, as they often take the comfortable route of finding someone who has already done that job.
“You have to work harder to think what are the core skills necessary here, and who could be successful in that role even if they haven’t exactly done that before.
Specific experience inessential
“I am not blaming just the recruiting community but I do think they contribute. The same is true for our managers and that gets back to the unconscious bias training.”
He said appointments are on merit and the focus at Westpac is on capabilities and generic experience rather than specific experience.
“The point of the shortlist thing is not to give a role to someone who doesn’t deserve it. The point is to force us to think hard about who is the best person for the role. And lo and behold, in a lot of those cases it turns out to be women.
“I don’t think people set out not to have women, it’s just that they think who do I know who’s been successful in this job? Their experience is people who are men. So they look for someone like that who also happens to be a man. Versus, if I abstract from the core requirements of the role and who has demonstrated those capabilities. It’s more a focus on capabilities than specific experience.
“There is an element of just working at taking risks on people and investing in people’s development to give them more ability to stretch.”
Mr Hartzer also introduced a program called Equilibrium, which has recruited 15 senior women from outside the banking sector and 19 internal candidates who do a one-year rotation around various parts of the bank. Many have taken management roles.
“Personally for me this is and has been a big issue, for as long as I have been a manager. As I have thought about what it’s going to take, part of the issue is the flow of women in at senior levels and part of this is a talent pool issue.
“Some of the thinking about Equilibrium is that a lot of very bright women have been streamed off into the professions…or other industries, rather than finance. So what we are trying to do is find those women and get them back in the pool.”
Westpac has raced ahead of other companies including those headed by the Male Champions of Change, a high-profile group of male chief executives and chairmen started in 2011, who pledged to promote gender equality in their organisations. On average this group has achieved small increases in women in leadership roles. Mr Hartzer is not a member of the MCC group.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Mr Hartzer said. “I want the company to do really well. I want Westpac to be the place that every great female aspiring exec in Australia wants to work and if that happens I am happy.
“I don’t think that business leadership in Australia is full of men who don’t want women to succeed. But I do think that actions speak louder than words and you have to work at this stuff.”
Feminist? So be it
Culture of inclusion
Mr Hartzer said he is hugely supportive of the inclusion and the advancement of women and wants to give them the opportunity to become as good as they can be.
“Companies have a role and an opportunity to participate in that in a big way. I’ve got four daughters, so of course I want to make sure they have every opportunity available to them.
“Call it what you like, the way I think about it is, I want people to have the best chance to fulfil their potential. I want everyone who works at Westpac to be their best self.
“And I want to create a culture where that can happen and that means making sure we have very good people here who set high standards for themselves it means having a culture where people feel welcome and included and supported, where people feel like we are investing in their skills and their capability and giving them the feedback they need to get better.
“We want Westpac to be a talent factory where people want to come here because they are going to get a development experience that they can’t get somewhere else; that is going to make us a better company. Women as 50 per cent of the population are a huge part of that potential workforce.
“If that’s feminism so be it. I certainly don’t object to being called that [a feminist], I just don’t know what that means to people. I don’t know what people read into that.”
He believes gender balance in leadership roles will be sustained after he leaves Westpac.
“The kind of people who want to work here are the kind of people for whom that’s important and when that’s the case you almost don’t need to do anything because they just do it.
“We are getting to that point where there are enough senior women in senior roles that it kind of stops being something you have to work on. My goal would be that in three or five years time we don’t even have to talk about it.”
Westpac started its push for gender equality after incoming American chief executive Bob Joss, who took over in 1993, was shocked there were so few women in management, famously asking “where are all the women?” He recruited senior women to address the imbalance, including Ann Sherry, now executive chairman at Carnival Australia, and the AFR Westpac 100 Women of Influence winner in 2015, who was instrumental in implementing maternity leave at Westpac.
For like roles Westpac has ensured pay parity and has closed pay gaps where they are found. Westpac said it ensures women are not disadvantaged due to parental leave and part-time roles. The graduate intake is 50 per cent female, and all leadership development programs target 50 per cent female.
Mr Hartzer has backed same-sex marriage in staff meetings across the country but he urged staff to vote with their conscience.
Mr Hartzer said that when he revealed to staff at recent town hall meetings that he personally supported same-sex marriage and they should vote their conscience, he received massive applause. He believes that for Westpac the same-sex marriage issue is akin to the gender equality issue: it is important for staff and Westpac promotes a culture where people feel welcome at work.
“My guiding principles are what’s good for the economy and how do I make sure that everyone who works here feels welcome?
“I took the view that given that I had a strong personal thought process on it, I would share my logic. But I was scrupulous about saying, ‘I am not telling you how to vote, you should vote your conscience.’
“I knew that we had huge numbers of people in the company for whom this was a big issue and I knew this because it came up at each of our recent town hall meetings.
“So I answered, ‘Here’s my view and here’s why.’ I got asked that in every state and in response there was massive applause… I drew the line at going out to customers. But internally we are a social organisation and the culture of speaking up is a really important part of what we do.”