ANZ places great emphasis on supporting women leaders. Here’s how the bank helped me

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Ha Bach, acting Chief Executive Officer at ANZ Vietnam, has experienced first-hand the support the bank gives women leaders. The company strives to have a gender-inclusive workplace, and about 70% of employees at ANZ Vietnam are female, she explains. Women are also well represented on the executive team.

“At ANZ Vietnam we are proud of these numbers,” says Bach. The high number of women in senior positions is no accident, with ANZ putting significant effort into supporting women in leadership roles and helping them to develop their careers in all of the countries in which it operates.

Bach – who started her banking career in Vietnam in 1994 when the US trade embargo was lifted, and has experience at both international and Vietnamese banks – could see the difference immediately she joined ANZ. “I’ve worked for global banks and local banks and found that the gender balance is very natural here at ANZ,” she says.

ANZ takes many different approaches to promoting gender equality, adds Bach. Among its initiatives are gender-balanced recruitment practices, which not only ensure a female candidate is interviewed for every role, but also that all interview panels contain at least one woman.

One area in which Bach says ANZ is pioneering in Vietnam is its promotion of flexible working for both men and women at the bank. “This flexibility recognises that rigid working patterns don’t always suit our customers and our employees,” she explains. “It’s about rethinking how, when and where our staff work and being open to new ways of doing things.”

For some staff this might mean working at home occasionally, while for others it’s just about changing their work hours, so they balance personal commitments such as caring for family, playing sport or studying. The scheme has been very well received by female staff and has a high take up among them, says Bach.

Another area in which Bach thinks ANZ is leading the market is helping staff with career progression. “We provide all people in the bank with opportunities for career enrichment, so you can apply for different roles at the bank. We also have a leadership pathway to encourage female staff to think about their careers, and take up more leadership roles, and we support them in how to get there,” she says.

ANZ is also a principal sponsor of an Australian organisation called Chief Executive Women (CEW), through which existing women leaders work to enable other female leaders. Every year ANZ sends women from its operations in different countries to take part in one of the CEW programs. “All the participants are women from different industries and backgrounds, but we’re all in leadership positions at our organisations,” says Bach, who has taken part in CEW.

She explains that the program was very beneficial to her on a number of levels. Firstly, it helped her and other participants to self-evaluate and think about their development potential. Secondly, she found great value in listening to participants sharing experiences of working for different organisations, the challenges they encountered, and how they responded to them.

“Another important benefit is that we have the opportunity to build our network among participants from both this CEW program and previous ones,” says Bach. “Whenever you need to reach out and ask questions someone from the network will be able to help you.”

When CEW participants travel, they often get in touch with each other and meet up, either for a business talk about market developments in that country, or just for a personal chat. “This program was really useful to me,” says Bach.

Working for a company that is supportive of gender equality has been hugely beneficial to Bach’s career. “Asia is still very male-dominated, and while it’s changing, the CEOs or chairmen of companies are usually male,” she says. “What I have found working for an organisation like ANZ, where you have an emphasis on gender equality, is it encourages you and provides you with opportunities for career development.”

In the past, when job opportunities had come up, Bach was sometimes hesitant to raise her hand. “ANZ helps you not to shy away from an opportunity. It really encourages women to apply for jobs and go for higher positions,” she says.

Bach thinks there are significant benefits for organisations in having a diverse workforce. ANZ Vietnam not only has gender diversity, but also cultural diversity, with its leadership team including both locals and expats. “This diverse leadership means we analyse things from many different angles – from the point of view of different genders and different cultures – enabling us to analyse the facts more carefully,” she says. “I’ve found that when we have this diverse leadership, we come up with quite innovative and pragmatic solutions.”

Bach is also clear about the benefits for women of working for a firm like ANZ. “It’s good for us because we know at this organisation we can go further with our career development. There are no boundaries.”