Meeting the challenge of inequality

Women continue to fall behind financially and professionally, but it doesn't have to be that way. ANZ is taking a stand for equality with our Women’s Initiative, writes Mike Smith.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to present Serena Williams with the winner’s cheque after she won the Australian Open final for a sixth time. What made it particularly satisfying was that the cheque was for the same amount as Novak Djokovic’s the next evening.

This wasn’t always the case of course. Up until the mid-2000s women were significantly underpaid in professional tennis compared to their male colleagues. Today, prize money at all four major grand slam events, including the Australian Open, is rightly equally distributed.

Tennis’s pay equality is largely the result of a relentless campaign led by grand slam legend Martina Navratilova, who used her influence and standing in the game to bring about meaningful change.

And while we have achieved progress in international tennis, we haven’t made as much in business.

It feels like there is a lot of talk but things are still moving at a glacial pace. It’s now time for our leaders to stand up, as Martina did throughout her career, and demand gender equality as a basic right.

This is more than just improving diversity in our workplaces. It’s about ensuring women have the same opportunities as men, it’s about demanding that women receive the same economic rewards, it’s not about discriminating against half of the population simply because of gender.

The reality is, despite the talk, that women are at significant financial disadvantage and the most telling statistic is our national retirement savings.

Statistics show Australian women significantly lag behind men when it comes to their superannuation balance, with women retiring with around half the superannuation.

The shortfall in retirement savings is largely due to a system that hasn’t been designed with women in mind. It is a system that needs to be rethought and adjusted, reflecting the needs of life stages, such as maternity leave and part-time work.

While many companies, such as ANZ, have equal pay for equal work, more needs to be done to encourage our talented women into higher paying professions.

An example of this is our Accelerated Banking Experiences Program for Women. This is a program we developed a few years ago where we hand pick talented women, largely from female-dominated enablement functions, and put them on a fast track to senior front-line banking roles.

Not only are they developing their careers, they are also inspiring other women in our organisation to have the courage to take professional risks.

And it’s our acknowledgment that we have a responsibility to do more that has led to the creation of the ANZ Women’s Initiative.

This is a program of offers, actions and resources for ANZ customers and staff to assist women in increasing their knowledge about superannuation as well as their super balance.

We want to start a conversation, challenge the status quo and engage the community.

This not only reflects our company values but a strong business case for creating an inclusive and diverse workplace. In businesses and organisations where people feel included and respected there are higher rates of engagement and productivity, and in turn, better commercial outcomes for the business.

The program also draws on another powerful lobby group, Male Champions of Change, which was convened by sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and is finally starting to have an impact on our collective workforces.

Just like Male Champions of Change, it’s based on the principle that a united force can help bridge the gender equality and superannuation gap.

And just as there was resistance in women’s push for equal pay on the tennis circuit, I’m expecting this will be a challenge. But it’s a challenge I hope we are up for as a society.