Greater gender equality is not happening at the expense of men, says the chief executive of the country’s largest bank.

ANZ New Zealand chief executive Antonia Watson was speaking after the bank released research on what drives Kiwi women to succeed.

But recent research in Australia seems to point to the fact that many men are over the push for gender equality with half (48 per cent) of Australia’s male white-collar workers surveyed feeling fatigued by it.

The research by consultancy the Dream Collective of 1000 Aussies also found 52 per cent of men felt they were suffering from reverse-discrimination although in reality the majority said their opportunities for advancement had either remained the same or improved.

Watson said she was a bit taken aback by the Australian view.

“You have a more vibrant, more diverse, make better decisions when you have a diverse work environment and it is certainly not at the expense of men.

“Men are still getting big jobs, they are getting promotions they are getting employed, all those sorts of things so none of this is at the expense of men. It is more about creating more diverse thinking in corporate environments that reflect your customers and therefore make better decisions – and do better financially as a result.”

ANZ’s own research which surveyed 1500 men and women revealed natural ability played less of a factor in women achieving, than factors such as motivation and role models, encouragement and benefits to increasing participation and development.

Watson said that finding did not come as a surprise to her.

“I think we all know that women have always, you are always talking in generalisations of course, but women have always needed a bit more of that push to put their names forwards for jobs, to be encouraged to play sport at a higher level and some of the research very much showed that push comes from a support network around them and family and friends and colleagues who are prepared to give them that little shove.

“It is really confirmed my view that women have relied on having that encouragement before they have been willing to put their hands up for whatever it is.”

Two thirds (64 per cent) of female respondents felt successful women didn’t receive as much recognition as men and were more likely to experience self-doubt in three of the four areas studied – work, social settings and schooling, but less so in sports.

While nearly three-quarters of female (72 per cent) respondents attributed their successes in life to feeling supported, helping bridge the gap between the lack of opportunities that 40 per cent of those surveyed felt they experienced in life compared to male counterparts.

Watson is one of three female chief executives at the top of the four largest banks in New Zealand but when it comes to female CEOs on the top 50 largest NZX-listed companies women are far and few between.

She said the solution to that issue was both policy-driven and showing women that it didn’t need to be a choice between family and career.

“A lot of that is policy-driven … how do we make sure it works for women who want to combine the two things – men do all the time.”

She said it was about companies making sure they had family-friendly policies, policies that encouraged men just as much as women to take parental leave and encouraged whoever was the caregiver in the family to be able to be flexible with their working life.

“To realise that some people might take a bit of a career break and really support them back into that – something you might have achieved at 40 – you may achieve at 45- making sure you are open-minded to those sorts of things and closing the pay gap – making sure you are paying like for like work.”

Watson said those on parental leave should continue to get pay rises and have their employer continue to contribute to KiwiSaver.

“It’s also gender balanced interview panels, making sure you have gender balanced short lists – all those little things add up over time. We also need to take affirmative action – whether that is early on in their career, making a real effort to get whether it is young women, or ethnicities that are underrepresented up the ranks.”

Pretty shameful ethnic diversity

Watson said ANZ had a “pretty shameful” result on Maori and Pacifica leadership.

“It’s in the single digits, with women it is getting towards 40 per cent but it is still not at that 40 per cent nirvana. We have got a gender balanced board and leadership team which is great and it sets the tone from the top but there is still work to do to bring people up the organisation.”

The bank had recently appointed a head of equity, diversity and inclusion who had been charged with coming up with ideas on what more it could do to be a leader in this space, Watson said.

“I think that is a watch this space question. But we are certainly open to being a bit out there and making sure we make some commitments and keep to them.”

Asked what her message was to other business leaders, Watson said the average large business got the need for diversity.

“There has been plenty of research done that says the more diverse your business is, the more it represents your customers and society the better you are going to do, the better decisions you are going to make.

“It is just putting it into action. No one has got it right yet. There are some real market leaders, lots of people are doing different things it is just keep learning from each other.”

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