How CommBank is supporting women in finance
CommBank’s executive general manager of small-business banking Rebecca Warren reveals how Australia’s largest bank is helping more women start a career in finance.
You were appointed CommBank’s executive general manager of small-business banking in September 2023. Is business banking typically male dominated?
Certainly. I’ve been in this industry for 25 years and back then I’d say that was the case. I felt like the minority.
We still have some work to do in leadership, we’re surging towards the 40 per cent mark, but within business banking there are different nuances. For example, I look after the broking business for CommBank and that’s an area where we can sometimes find it a bit harder to attract and retain females. This can also be a challenge in areas such as regional locations.
So overall, we’re tracking well, but there are challenges and different components across banking and in particular, business banking, where you see those variations.
Do you think there are any barriers to entry for women joining the industry?
I don’t think there are any barriers to joining the industry, but if I take my own experiences and reflections, I’ve opted out of the industry on three occasions with child responsibilities.
In my own, personal case, my husband has matched me; he’s had as much time off as primary carer as I have. But, if I look around my friendship group and around my workplace, I do find often that females take more of that primary carer responsibility. Similarly, I’ve started to see friends and colleagues now opting out due to carer responsibilities for ageing parents.
So instead of looking at barriers, I’m thinking: What are the opportunities?
One of the things I really like to focus on in my team is how I can show there’s equality. I really celebrate when my male colleagues take three, six, or 12 months off as primary carer. I think it’s one of the main ways we can get to equality. Not only in banking, but in wider corporate Australia.
I really applaud CommBank – like lots of other large Australian organisations – where we now have gender-neutral parental leave.
When I went on maternity leave, paternity leave didn’t exist! So, I think there have been a lot of interventions by CommBank, as well as other organisations, to provide those tools that enable us to be more equal and supportive of all employees.
What else is CommBank doing to support women in the finance industry?
One that I think is super impressive is our Career Comeback Program. Our Institutional Bank is supporting people who have taken a career break for carer responsibilities or other personal reasons and are now transitioning back into the workforce.
It’s inspiring to see the calibre of talent coming in. But while their skills are amazing, you should hear their negative self-talk! They don’t come in with the bravado that they should have, relative to the skills that they’ll be bringing to the table. So, the Career Comeback Program is perfect to provide training and support to thrive in their roles. At the end of the 12-week paid placement, they have an opportunity to apply for a permanent role in Institutional Banking & Markets. The program has been very successful.
We also have Women in Focus, a program I’ve had the pleasure of running for a period of time. It provides a network and gives women that sense of camaraderie, a sense of solidarity with peers, and a common purpose.
We send out newsletters and insights, we showcase amazing female small-business owners and what they’re doing and our annual conference is coming up.
The conference enables any woman in business to feel a sense of network and meet like-minded individuals. It’s incredibly uplifting and energising.
Even if you’re not part of CommBank, I’d encourage women to go onto Women in Focus and look at the content. I know you won’t be disappointed!
How can the industry better support a more inclusive finance industry?
In a fast-paced environment, people form opinions really quickly. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pausing and being more conscious. Make sure you’re not just regurgitating old habits, old interviewing processes, old onboarding processes, etc. CommBank puts a lot of rigour and a lot of discipline into that.
Ensuring equality at the point of application is crucial, though that can be easier said than done. In regional Australia, for instance, we can often see at point of application it’s 70/30 male-to-female applications coming in or even 80/30. So, we need to hold, be patient, and do some active recruitment to balance it up.
Also, making sure the interview panels are diverse so you’ve got that wide-ranging perspective on what are the right skills, personalities, mindsets, and skill sets that we’re looking for to ensure that, right the way through the funnel, it’s equal.
Every point of research says that having a diverse team and a diverse leadership team leads to better commercial outcomes. I think it is well recognised now that a diverse team of all perspectives – whether gender or culture – provides better outcomes for everyone.
Act with your head and your heart. When you put together the head and the heart, you’ll know what the right thing to do is.
Tune in to hear more!
Find out more about Rebecca Warren, the executive general manager of small-business banking at CommBank, and why she believes inclusion and diversity are key to achieving superior business results in the Women in Finance Podcast, here: