BNZ’s award-winning gender equality strategy

On 7 March 2013, the  Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) was one of five companies worldwide to receive an inaugural Benchmarking for Change Award from the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles group for successfully promoting gender equality.

In 2010, CEO Andrew Thorburn signed up to the UN’s seven women’s empowerment principles and made improving gender equality one of the bank’s top three priorities. Far from a ‘numbers game’, the Bank wanted smart, diverse-thinking women to keep pace with New Zealand’s changing demographics and to add value to debates and decision-making at board and senior management level.

To this end, BNZ raised awareness and understanding about the benefits of gender equality, researched barriers for women at the Bank, identified talented women for development and succession planning, improved recruitment by setting targets for women candidates (every role at BNZ must have women candidates on its short list), measured the roles performed by men and women to ensure they are receiving equal pay for equal work, and established a diversity council.

Barriers to gender equality included the usual suspects: lack of leadership commitment, old boy’s networks, systemic barriers and unclear career pathways for women. BNZ also realised it was losing women at middle management level and introduced career development programs and career paths to retain them. One of the biggest issues for women was flexible working and BNZ now has a standardised flexible working policy that applies to every job in the bank and which is tracked monthly.

As a result, almost half (four out of nine) of the members of BNZ’s executive team are women (up from one woman), and subsidiary boards have 27% female membership (up from 6%).

The Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) are seven standards for empowering women that 542 companies around the world have so far signed up to. The seven Women’s Empowerment Principles are:

  1. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
  3. Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
  4. Promote education, training and professional development for women.
  5. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
  6. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
  7. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality.

Discussion questions

What are the barriers to diversity in your work team? How would greater diversity (gender and other types of diversity) add value to your team and its ability to meet or exceed its goals? How well does your work team and your organisation embody the seven empowerment principles listed above?