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Ian Narev - Male Champions of Change

25 August 2015

Ian Narev: Good afternoon and welcome everybody. I too would like to start by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting today and pay my respects to their Elders past and present and to all other Indigenous Australians here today. And to Leigh thank you very much for that introduction. You yourself have been an important part of our attitude towards women in leadership and diversity at the Commonwealth Bank. And I will come back to that right at the end.

As you have seen from the video we all started out here with the realisation in fact that given the large predominance of men in leadership positions in Australia that meaningful change in the unacceptably low levels of women in leadership was going to have to be led at least in part by men. And the Male Champions of Change under Liz Broderick’s guidance was a response to that. Not the whole answer but a critical part of the answer.

And as we stand here today nearly five years on a lot of progress has been made. Later on in the lunch you will hear from some of our MCC colleagues on initiatives such as ‘Targets with Teeth’, such as the ‘Panel Pledge’, and other areas where we have directed our attention towards initiatives that we can commit to in order to achieve this goal.

And the Male Champions of Change have shown over a number of years their commitment to these initiatives and that commitment has been shown in the prevalence of many of these things throughout companies in corporate Australia and other organisations represented by the Male Champions of Change.

Very early on the Male Champions of Change also left excuses at the door. One of the excuses that was commonly held at the start was “The weak pipeline of women”. And I can tell you that from the Commonwealth Bank’s point of view with three of our major P&L businesses run by women, two other of our executive team and staff roles as women, three exceptional non-executive Directors who are women, the idea that you have to compromise on quality to get women in leadership roles is simply fanciful. So we left that excuse at the door.

And we then also were willing to broaden the scope of the discussions to areas relating to women in our business and our community which went alongside the leadership challenge but were a bit different from it. And in this front I want to pay particular tribute to Rosie Batty and to others who had the courage to come and speak to the Male Champions of Change, and have us hear firsthand about the scourge on Australian society of domestic violence and about our personal responsibility as leaders of organisations to do something about it.

So between these initiatives, the leaving of the excuses at the door, the broadening of the scope, over five years a lot of progress has been made. But it is absolutely critical that today’s lunch not be an exercise in self-congratulations and complacency. Yes the initiatives are being done. Yes some progress is being made. But we set out to make a meaningful and sustainable difference to the numbers of women in leadership roles and the numbers are too slow. They are too small. We would not accept that level of progress in any other aspect of our business. We must not accept as we stand here today that enough is being done. And so we can reflect five years on at this juncture about the progress that has been made. But we must do so in a manner where we look forward to see and address and embrace the challenges that still lie ahead of us.

So what is it going to take from here? Number one is that we must persist. One of the great things that I learnt from my predecessor and one of my great mentors, Ralph Norris, is that meaningful change anywhere is about committing to often simple things but doing it over years. And this is a good example. Panel Pledges, Targets with Teeth, All Roles Flexible, these initiatives are all important. They do not change the world overnight. And as leaders and executives we have to strike this balance between an urgency, a demand for more, a restless belief that this is not fast enough, at the same time as the diligence and the patience to understand that it is only by committing to this for the long term that we can actually achieve the meaningful change.

So number one is being persistent. Number two is listening. I can say from my personal experience that one of the great advantages of being in the Male Champions of Change is actually listening. With having the opportunity to sit down with leaders I admire like David Morrison, David Thodey and hear them talk about the fact “Gosh progress is not fast enough. What can we do?”. To listen to what they are doing.

To listen to competitors like Mike Smith who in the boxing ring of day to day businesses we like to punch each other but on issues of this importance we need to be prepared to stand back and say “Gosh. Much of what is being done in our competitors is excellent. What can we do to emulate it for the broader benefit of what we are trying to achieve?”. And that ongoing listening is going to be a critical part of our success.

And in this vein what I want to particularly emphasise for us as leaders is the importance of listening very closely to women for whom some of what we are doing, particularly flexibility, is a financial imperative not a choice. Their voices are often hardest to hear. We must ensure that as we continue the progress on this path we as leaders are listening to their voices and understanding some of their unique challenges.

Beyond being persistent and beyond listening is the final and probably most important part of ongoing success. And that is actually really believing in what we are doing. Meaningful change comes from people, whether it’s leaders or not leaders, who actually believe in the good of an outcome and strive to achieve it. And in our view the business case for how diversity of women leadership makes your business better, that is now a given. The business case for the importance of flexibility for the productivity of the economy is a given. But authenticity is one of the great buzz words of leadership today. And this is a real test for us about whether we really are prepared to walk the talk for the long term. Do we really believe in the change that we are trying to achieve?

And on this note to wrap up I want to come back to the role that you played Leigh. Because some time last year you sent me, unprompted, a book. A book called The Wife Drought which was written by Annabel Crabb. And people running organisations know you do get a lot of books. And one of the arts is to know which books to pick up and read and which books you might politely put to one side. And I ought to note on that front Chris Bowen your book is one of the ones I will read.

And I picked up Leigh’s book on a Friday night and I started reading it. Sorry Annabel’s book, The Wife Drought. And after 15 minutes I was in the first conversation with my wife, an extraordinary woman who worked for 15 years, became a senior partner in a law firm, then made the choice to step out of the workforce for a while to raise our children. And we started having a great conversation.

Then I went further through the book and we invited Annabel to come to a small dinner of women and men who had recently had children. And as a result of that dinner one of the women wrote to me the next day and said “I went home and that night my husband agreed he would go and ask his work to do a nine day fortnight and the next day they agreed”. And what Annabel’s book did is teach us why actually we should believe this.

Because in the end this is about striving for and celebrating personal choice. It is great for men to be in leadership roles. It is great for women to be in leadership roles. It is great for men to look after their kids. It is great for women to look after their kids. All that matters is that we unleash the potential that everyone has by realising their personal ambitions through their personal choices. And if that is what motivates us then on this element of women and leadership, and other critical aspects of diversity, we really can achieve sustainable long term change. Thank you.