Catriona Noble, Managing Director, Retail Distribution, ANZ Bank. She is the former CEO and Chief Restaurant Officer of McDonald’s Australia.

In the ANZ Retail business, you have 8,000 employees, supporting five million customers across Australia. In that context, what does diversity mean to you?

For me, diversity means opportunity. For a consumer business like ANZ, understanding our customers is critical. We have a customer base that’s extremely diverse so having an internal workforce that reflects that diversity means we can better understand our customers’ needs and help them achieve their goals and financial success, which is ultimately what we’re here to do.

It also means we’re tapping into the best talent available in the market. Differences in ethnicity, gender, disability, age and sexual orientation generates creativity and enables us to tap into a much broader range of perspectives. In my experience, that results in new ideas, better problem solving and innovation rather than 'groupthink' or 'that’s what we’ve always done'.

As an example, the idea for our GAYTMs that have been successful for the past few years, as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, came from encouraging diverse perspectives around what we could do to demonstrate our commitment to our LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex] employees and customers. As a traditional organisation, it was a fairly radical idea and it’s been really successful for us.

At the same time, I think it’s really important to have a culture that’s open to different perspectives - where people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing ideas that are different. You can’t have one without the other; they go hand in hand and at ANZ, building an inclusive culture is a real focus for our CEO Shayne Elliot and the leadership team.

You’ve said ANZ considers workplace diversity critical to innovation and customer focus, giving you a competitive advantage. Could you explain that a bit more for us?

We know intuitively that diversity matters. It’s increasingly clear that it makes good business sense and the research shows more diverse companies are achieving better performance.

Today customers expect more from their bank than ever before. They have less time, greater choice and they’re digitally enabled. They want to bank when and where it suits them. In this environment, success will come down to understanding what your customers really want and helping them to achieve that in a simple, convenient way.

When I’m talking with my team, we talk about 'what got you here won’t get you there'. You have to continually evolve and innovate. In an increasingly competitive environment, workplace diversity is a way for us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and identify opportunities that may not be as obvious to others.

On the customer side, you’ve taken a welcoming approach to “new Australians”. Can you describe some of the practical things you do for migrants - both before they get here and also once they’re here?

As a bank it’s our job to help make customers’ financial decisions easier by providing the information and support they need. For most people, buying a home is the biggest financial decision of their life and it can be incredibly stressful. Add to that stress moving to a new country and it can be overwhelming. So we’ve set up a range of things to help reduce stress in what is already a demanding process.

For example we have created a dedicated website called ‘Moving to Australia’, which is a really great resource for customers who are relocating to Australia. They can use it to apply for an ANZ bank account and access support and assistance before they even leave their home country.

So far we’ve helped about 80,000 new customers' pre-arrival to Australia this way. We also translate many of our brochures into Korean, Chinese, simplified Chinese and Vietnamese and we have 64 branches called ‘international banking services branches’ that have multi-lingual materials and our staff in those branches can speak multiple languages. So these are just some of things we do to try and make some of those financial decisions less stressful and make it easier for the customer.

On the employee side, you have a program involving training refugees and asylum seekers for jobs in your network. Why you do that and how does it work?

We became involved in the ‘Given the Chance’ program about eight years ago. It’s run by The Brotherhood of St Laurence, a fantastic organisation, and through the program we’ve placed more than 120 people into roles at the bank, nearly half of those into our branch network, which we’re really proud of.

The way it works is participants do a six-month placement at the bank, which gives them an opportunity to see how Australian organisations work, while improving their communication, networking and customer service skills and - if they want to - begin a career with ANZ.

There are a few reasons why we became a partner. As a large corporate organisation in this country, we have a responsibility to help improve economic and social inclusion in the communities where we live and work and that’s something we’re serious about. It’s also a great source of talent. Most people who join the program have great qualifications and experience in their own country; they just have enormous difficulty securing work in Australia. This program gives them the skills and experience needed to gain entry into the Australian workforce.

A staff member told me a wonderful story recently about one of our participants. He fled from Ethiopia to take political refuge in Australia and start his life afresh but a limited network of contacts, lack of local experience and confusing recruitment process meant he spent a year unemployed. Through our program, he was able to secure a permanent role as a credit card sales consultant and finally start his new life in Australia, which is really fantastic.

Another business imperative identified by ANZ is gender balance in the organisation. Why is that important?

The business case for gender balance is clear. Gender balanced teams and organisations with inclusive cultures perform better financially, they innovate and solve problems better and they more accurately reflect their customer base. We know that.

I think for me there’s an important point about culture. Organisations where women do well create the kind of cultures that help people collaborate more, innovate faster and more readily adapt to rapidly-changing operating conditions. For us at ANZ, that’s critical.

It’s also about accessing all of the talent in the market. Women make up 50 percent of the population yet are significantly under-represented in management roles. That needs to continue to change through focused and sustained effort.

You’ve taken the confident step of publically declaring your targets for women in management. In 2015, you had over 40 percent, a high proportion compared to most of corporate Australia. What is your target and how are you planning to get there?

At ANZ, we’ve seen a steady increase in the representation of women in management roles 36.2 percent to 40.8 percent over the past seven years. As an organisation, our aim is to continue building on this progress and increase this by one percent in 2016 and three percent by 2018.

In terms of how we will get there, I think we need to keep focusing on changing processes and systems so they are inclusive for both men and women and they provide equal opportunities to achieve success.

One of the systems we’ve redesigned at ANZ is our recruitment process. We now require at least one female to be formally interviewed for every role, and every interview process must include at least one female interviewer, to bring a more diverse perspective to the recruitment decision. It’s these sort of system changes that will help us get to where we need to be.

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot has signed ANZ’s commitment to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles. He’s also a member of Male Champions for Change. In your view, can real growth through diversity be achieved without the overt support of the CEO?

I don’t believe it can. To achieve growth through diversity, I think you need an inclusive culture where diversity of thought is valued and encouraged, and in my view organisational culture is set at the top. It’s critical for your leaders “walk the talk”.

We’re really fortunate at ANZ that our CEO Shayne Elliot is personally 100 percent committed to a diverse and inclusive workforce because he knows it’s a key driver of innovation and competitive advantage.

Shayne’s first official duty on his first day as CEO was to sign our commitment to the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles. This was widely communicated by Shayne to all our staff and was a really powerful demonstration of his commitment to advance equality between women and men.

Externally, you’ve taken a position on financial equality for men and women, with ANZ’s Women’s Initiative focused on redesigning systems to make them fairer. In the financial context, what are the systems that need improving in your view?

Last year, we did some research into gender inequality in Australia and what we found was pretty alarming. We found that over their lifetime Australian women earn on average $700,000 less than men; around 90 percent retire with inadequate savings to fund a comfortable lifestyle in retirement; and almost 15 percent of women are likely to experience poverty in retirement.

So as a large employer in this country, we thought, 'right, we’ve got to do something about this; we’ve got to be part of the solution and help close the gap'.

So we looked at the systems supporting women’s future financial wellbeing and put some measures in place for our people and for our customers in the areas of superannuation, advice and financial education. These include additional super contributions of $500 every year for our female staff; super contributions for all of our staff on parental leave for up to 24 months; free superannuation advice to all Australians with less than $50,000 in their super accounts and access to specialist financial planners over extended hours and weekends, to accommodate working women and mothers.

ANZ has won recognition for its work on social inclusion, particularly regarding the LGBTI community. Your GAYTMs are now famous around the world and you’ve been sponsoring the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for ten years. For other corporates that are less experienced in social inclusion and diversity programs, what advice would you give?

We certainly don’t profess to be the experts but I think what’s worked for us is to be authentic and stay the course. Our support of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a great way for us to show our support and commitment to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex community. Despite our best efforts to encourage diversity, we have received negative feedback at times, but overwhelmingly it’s been really positive, and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to achieve.

Within ANZ, inclusion and diversity are an important part of our culture. We have a dedicated Pride Network with measurable targets and clear actions to build an inclusive culture accepting of difference, increase awareness, and provide support for LGBTI employees.

The effort ANZ puts into its large range of diversity programs is considerable. How do you measure their success? Which metrics make you most proud?

We report on our performance against our public targets twice a year through our Corporate Sustainability Review and we report to Workplace Gender Equality Australia on a yearly basis.

There are a wide range of metrics, but the ones I’m most proud of are both key indicators of an inclusive culture which is a key priority for us at the bank.

Firstly, we’ve seen an increase in the number of our staff who have voluntarily disclosed that they have a disability - that’s gone from 1.6 percent two years ago to 7.2 percent. The other metric I’m really proud of is that in our last organisation-wide employee engagement survey, 91 percent of our people said ANZ’s work environment is 'open and accepting of individual difference'. In an organisation of about 50,000 people that’s pretty significant.