Each year, International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in business. And in the 12 years since launching, the Women in Focus team has had a lot to celebrate with you. Within our community, we have seen female owned companies launched, grown, funded and transformed, and careers take flight. 

These accomplishments remind us of the importance of Women in Focus as an initiative dedicated to helping women through all stages of their business journey. With the long-running support of CommBank’s Business Bank, Women in Focus has proudly helped women in business by providing practical tools, opportunities for growth and fostering trusted connections between like-minded women.

But there is plenty more to be done. CommBank’s Group Executive Business Banking, Mike Vacy-Lyle agrees, sharing his thoughts on why Women in Focus is such a crucial initiative for CommBank and what we can do to advance its agenda.

Playing a bigger game

When reflecting on the importance of having an initiative dedicated to supporting women in business, Mike invokes the theme of this years’ International Women’s day, #choosetochallenge.

When it comes to gender equality in business, “barriers still exist, and we are a long way from parity,” Mike says. “We are still in a world where only 32.1% of board members of ASX200 companies are women1, and only 10 CEOs of ASX200 companies are women2.”

“We need to continue to lead change and drive impact. We have to be able to see things from new perspectives. We created Women in Focus for that reason. To make the most of unexpected conversations, to hear diverse perspectives and share wisdom, experiences and challenges.”

In this way, the theme of this year’s event resonated deeply with Mike. He says that the only way we’re going to achieve our business growth goals is by having people speak up, call out and challenge the things that aren’t working. 

Image source: Supplied – Mike Vacy-Lyle, Group Executive Business Banking, Commonwealth Bank

Balancing words with action

Mike firmly believes that an inclusive, gender-diverse work environment gives everyone a sense of belonging and safety. By reflecting the communities and people we support, it allows us to best serve our customers.

Mike says that to support gender equality and cultural diversity, the Business Bank has committed to having 50% women in Executive Manager roles and above and that General Manager roles and above will match the cultural diversity of the Australian population, both by 2025.

“There are a few initiatives that we are actively working on to achieve our goals. Our Springboard program is focussed on providing support such as coaching and sponsorship opportunities for our high performing female talent to help them progress into leadership positions.”

“We’ve also launched the Career Comeback program, which is an internship program for experienced individuals who have been out of the workforce for an extended period. I’m really pleased about this program because there’s a lot of untapped potential and talent in those who spent time away from their careers for various reasons, and may feel at a loss when re-entering the workforce.”

Harnessing inclusion

When considering leaders' roles in creating a culture that supports a more gender-equal workplace, Mike explains that safe environments are paramount. 

“I think it’s important to be open and transparent and to make people feel comfortable in speaking up, thinking outside the box and challenging the status quo. But this doesn’t just sit with me. It’s a collective effort amongst my team, to lead and encourage two-way conversation.”

For Mike, this type of collective effort would benefit from both women and men having shared work experiences and common goals.

“I think one of the most critical issues is shifting people’s thinking that gender equality is focused only on females. If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to get males actively involved.”

“By that I mean we’ve got to see an increase in the number of males taking part in activities that have traditionally been typecast as female-oriented. For example, parental leave and flexible working arrangements. We’ve got to level the playing field and have shared experiences across both genders.”

Mike adds that the notion of choosing to challenge should be a concept embraced by all. “The only way we’re going to achieve gender equality is by not accepting that ‘things are ok as they are today and that we’ll gradually get there over time’. We’ve got to actively challenge knowing that there is better and that we want to get there sooner rather than later.”

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Things you should know

  • This article represents opinions and views of the interviewees personal experiences only.  It does not have regard to the situation or needs of any reader and must not be relied upon as advice. It is not intended to imply any recommendation or opinion about a financial product. Before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness to your circumstances. Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124.