In November 2020, ING Bank Australia (ING) promoted its head of retail bank, Melanie Evans, to the role of CEO.
Speaking at the House of Representatives’ standing committee on economics in July of this year, Ms Evans was asked by the committee what she thought Australia needed to do to “get more women into leadership roles in the banking sector”.
She responded: “It won't surprise you that I haven't worked for a female directly in banking and financial services since 1999."
“I'm here because, thank goodness, there are great male leaders in the sector who don't look at gender.
Ms Evans says has always acknowledged the many male leaders that have developed and sponsored her throughout her career. While focus is needed on unwinding the bias, she adds that it is important to acknowledge that many men are actively driving change. If an industry is male dominated without these progressive leaders, the statistics won’t change.
She told the committee: “I think there are a number of things—and it's a very complicated topic to touch on briefly in the time allowed—but, when I was at school, we were not encouraged to become captains of industry. So I'd start there.”
The ING CEO reflects that, when she was at school, academically minded females were encouraged to pursue medicine or law, rather than dream of running a corporation or their own business. The school experience naturally anchors many young women from an early age.
“It's a bit like the same challenge that we've got with young females and trying to get them into STEM. We spend a lot of time and effort on this at ING, in particular; being a digital bank, it's our space,” she told MPs.
“I think you have to start young, and you have to encourage women to actually think that they can be in industry. I would say that the complexion of financial services, if you look at the CEW Census, pretty much reflects ASX200 companies.
“Financial services in corporate Australia, unfortunately, is not unique. I was incredibly lucky to work for a great group of leaders who spent time and energy developing me and to work for leaders who gave me an opportunity because, hopefully, I worked hard and performed.
“ING itself, by way of example, has just gone through and updated a whole raft of parental leave and caring policies and flexibility to make sure that we keep women in that middle manager period.”
The ING CEO has spoken on record before about the dilemma of caring and career progression. She suggests that, unfortunately, the age at which we progress professionally can also collide with starting and raising a family. If women are taking all of the parental leave in society, naturally they will be at a disadvantage.
The good news, according to research by ING, is that men see themselves as equal parents and want to share the care. These insights are part of the very reason Ms Evans sponsored the change in parental leave at ING. All parents now get equal access to paid leave, with “no labels, more flexibility and less stigma”.
As Ms Evans told the House of Representatives’ standing committee on economics: “When people are starting their family, when they're doing the juggle, when everything else is going on, it's really important that organisations look at the long term and make sure that it's okay for life to be a bit messy.
“What you measure people on is what they bring to the organisation, what they deliver and how they work.
“We're certainly trying to make a difference. A third of our executive team at ING are women. Our key leadership group is at least 40 per cent females. It can be done.”