Working for a greater good

The business case for diversity is well documented, but Westpac chief executive David McLean says it's about more than that: embracing diversity is good for the country.

"There's huge opportunity for us to embrace this and leverage it as a strength for the country so that we can lead the world again.

"New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, and we've led the world in a lot of these things. Have we come off pace a bit? I think we have, and we've got a huge advantage in New Zealand from an ethno-diversity point of view."

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When he says we've been falling behind, he's talking about things like a survey Westpac commissioned earlier this year. It found that nearly half of all New Zealanders are afraid to bring their true selves to work. "I find that number sad and disturbing."

So what is Westpac doing that sets them apart?

Firstly, a look at the bank's top table shows the organisation's commitment to diversity: there is a 50-50 split within the senior executive between men and women. On top of that, leadership roles throughout the rest of the organisation are 47 per cent filled by women. Considering this figure sat at around 17 per cent in the late 1990s, the strides Westpac has taken are huge.

But even with their achievements in upper management, McLean says his company's success starts at the other end: from the bottom up.

"If we feel there's an issue that needs to be addressed, we'll gather the smartest people that are closest to that issue on the ground floor," he explains.

"We say, tell us what you need, how you think we can move the dial, and then the role of the leadership team is to simply support them in whatever they come up with. If you do it bottom-up like that, and get the people who are living these issues day-to-day, then the outcome -- whatever diversity initiative they might come up with -- will be very sustainable."

The sphere of diversity in the corporate space is often talked about with reference to internal gender biases, but Westpac recognises the need to keep the wheels turning on all diversity issues. This focus on engendering a broader environment of inclusion particularly impressed the diversity judging panel. Nowhere is this attitude more evident than in their dementia initiatives.

"We're the first dementia-friendly bank in New Zealand and it's something I'm really proud of.

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It's not a contest in becoming more diverse. I think there's a greater good here that if we all share our learnings and help each other along the way, New Zealand will be a lot better off.

"It's an important thing that doesn't get enough attention in New Zealand, yet it's something likely to affect a large number of New Zealanders personally or through family or friends."

McLean is bang on: the 2015 World Alzheimer Report has the number of New Zealanders with dementia tripling to over 150,000 by 2050.

The initiative is a multi-pronged one. The bank helps customers in the early stages of dementia to prepare themselves and their accounts for the future, they train their staff to recognise the signs of dementia and financial abuse and better equip them to help concerned customers.

Harking back to his approaching diversity as a task that can benefit the entire country, McLean explains he doesn't see diversity as a contest between other companies and his own.

"As I said, I do think diversity has a strong business case and that it'll make us a better bank. But it's not a contest in becoming more diverse. I think there's a greater good here that if we all share our learnings and help each other along the way, New Zealand will be a lot better off."

He points to Westpac's You Being You initiative as a recent example. Aimed at supporting the LGBT "It Gets Better" movement, the bank released a video featuring members of staff personally affected by issues of diversity.

A member of another New Zealand organisation reached out to McLean after the event, saying they'd gone back to their company and inspired management to set up a LGBT support group and start on the same journey. "To me, that's a winner."

The judges agreed, pointing to Westpac's demonstrated willingness to share their diversity learnings as a key influence in their decision to award Westpac this year's Diversity Leader award.

Finalist: ANZ

Achieving a diverse and inclusive workplace is hard work well worth doing, according to ANZ general manager of HR Felicity Evans.

As she puts it: "There's no silver bullet."

"But organisations need to realise that it makes business sense to represent your customers, represent your workforce," she explains. "We do affinity groups for LGBT staff, we sponsor community events, and all these little things add up to make us representative of our multicultural country.

The hard work often lies in defining the problem. ANZ spends time each month auditing key diversity indicators; how many women are being recruited, how many have been promoted, and so on. This audit leads to the setting of concrete diversity goals. For example, ANZ is targeting 15 per cent increase in Maori and Pacific Island recruits, an annual one per cent Women In Management Increase year on year and an employee engagement rate of 75 per cent.

Outside gender, ANZ is committed to supporting their staff who might be raising families, and have developed a number of initiatives to meet their needs.

ANZ's "all roles flex" policy is aimed at giving employees of all ages and life stages the opportunity to maintain the work/life balance their unique situations might demand. The uptake has been huge. This year's ANZ staff engagement survey reported that 86 per cent of respondents were taking advantage of the policy, up from just 40 per cent last year.

Then there's ANZ's parental leave policy. The company will pay the difference between an employee's ordinary salary and whatever they receive from the government's parental leave payment system. They've increased the duration of their top up payments from 14 to 16 weeks from April this year, and that number is set to increase to 18 weeks starting next year.

The support continues when employees return to work, with ANZ organising "Returning from parental leave" workshops which support them with planning, flexible work options and general preparation for coming back to work after time away.

Finalist: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand's diversity strategy is comprehensive and well-linked to both business goals and customer imperatives.

The company has shown its commitment to diversity with a focus on gender through initiatives such as its programme to accelerate high potential women within the organisation. It has set itself an ambitious goal of having the senior leadership team constituted by 40 per cent women by 2020, and has already committed and spent $1,000,000 on its women leadership and networking events. Its Women's Network connects female employees from throughout the organisation and can report that over 1500 women have directly attended the event since it was launched.

Other aspects of Air New Zealand's diversity efforts that impressed the judging panel was its nurturing of employee communities within the company (Women's Pride, Young Professionals, Maori and Pacific Island networks).

Air New Zealand's efforts in the diversity space are the product of continued engagement with the concerned parties on the issues. The judges were particularly impressed with senior management seeking feedback from senior women within the company, its networking with other aviation companies on issues of diversity and reviewing the policies of organisations around the world. On top of that, Air NZ's internal "Your Voice" survey at the end of last year boasted a 80 per cent employee participation rate and enabled it to create a baseline to use in tracking progress in the diversity and inclusion space.