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International Women's Day: Interview with Melanie Evans, CEO - ING Australia

interview with melanie evans

24-03-2021
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As part of the International Women’s Day, our Managing Director Louise Langridge interviewed Melanie Evans, CEO at ING Australia. In this video Melanie Evans shares incredibly valuable career advice, talks about what she does to build inclusive teams and how she chooses to challenge the status quo.

Video Transcript:

Louise: I'd like to introduce Melanie Evans, CEO of ING Australia and thank you for joining us today for this video series for International Women's day.

Melanie: Not at all. It's lovely to be here. It’s something that is very close to my heart.

Louise: There's been so many interesting articles and so many progressive things happening across the country and globally so it’s great to see so much happening today.  You've had an amazing career, you've done so many different things in your career ...if you were to look back at some of the highlights and pivotal moments, what are some of the things that you would sort of call out that have led you to where you are today?

Melanie: Well, I think there's many. So, I think that that is probably a theme in itself. I mean sometimes I describe myself as a jack of all trades and a master of none. I have had  a typically generalist business type background and I'm very conscious about that; particularly when I'm talking to people who are specialists and who have deep technical knowledge in a certain thing.

I mean one might say I'm deeply technical in Banking because I've been a banker since I was 17 years old but I have done a lot of things and I think that that is part of why I'm still here. I get a lot of energy out of what I do and why I am really attached to the whole purpose .. so Banking and Finance and what our role is in the community. 

I would say if I think about reflecting on where I've been and what I've done and about some of the best moments in my career then I would say that it was the advice around chasing experience, not titles. Go and seek out those projects or cycles in a business; or starting up a new business or fixing a business that's broken - try and get all of those experiences under your belt so that you do actually broaden out your experience so that you are armed if you'd like or you have the know-how to deal with a changing environment, a different business cycle a different customer group. Whatever it might be. 

I would say that would be the first thing, seeking out those moments. I am a believer that you learn the most when you're challenged not when you're comfortable or not when business is coming easy. I think we're certainly at a point in time now where every dollar of profit and every point of market share is challenging to come by. The other thing iis on the human side of things - don't just seek out experiences, seek out phenomenal leaders, great peer groups and most importantly people within your own team who are actually - dare I say - smarter, better or contribute something very different to you.

I always reflect on the leaders who have helped me develop when I was appointed CEO. I spent almost two hours reaching out to each one of those who I had felt contributed to my career progression over time. I thought it was one of those moments to stop and just thank people. I also think one of my key reflections is to make sure you know who those people are, make sure you seek out those people who will teach you, who will develop you, who see that as part of their job and almost steer clear of the alternative. 

Finally, my third reflection would be to enjoy what you do and then working hard is easy. I mean working hard and putting effort in is in my view the fundamental layer of anyone's success whether that's an organization or an individual or a team. But have a bit of fun too, have purpose and enjoy what you do. Very few high-performing people who I've worked with in my career, I look at and go: You’re not enjoying what you're doing. So, get energy, be energized.

Louise: Excellent,  loads of great tips in there.  When you think about creating a work environment or workplace where it can be really inclusive and people can join and really excel in their careers - what do you think is important when you start building that kind of inclusive team?

Melanie: I think you have to have a clear sense of what you mean by inclusive and I think it can mean different things to different people. For some people it can mean very public and very binary statistics but when I think about inclusivity and building diverse teams it's probably more about that everyone's welcome, everyone's respected, everyone has something to contribute. 

I'm probably more interested in how people feel when they come to work. Inclusivity to me is actually the bit before diversity. I don't think you can build diverse teams unless you've got the inclusive bit right first. That doesn't mean that you and I have to look the same or believe the same. I fundamentally believe that people come from all walks of life and hold different belief systems and some people will think one way and I'm not in the business of changing how anyone thinks about something - that's not what for me inclusivity means. 

It actually means that you're respectful of different belief systems, you're respectful of different ways of life and everyone is welcome and respected and they can happily live in the same organization and actually get great outcomes because of that inclusivity. 

Once you build an inclusive culture on those sorts of bases, then you get to diversity. It’s International Women's Day, so obviously gender is one of the most visible ways that we can split our workplace but I also chair the ING diversity and inclusion council so we do spend other time thinking about other issues: age, culture, mental health.

I mean you can go anywhere with a diversity inclusion agenda but ultimately it's not just about doing the right thing and being wired the right way. It is because it leads to better outcomes. As a leader what you also need to do is not get lost in averages. I could sit back at ING Australia  and say we're 60: 40 at our Executive table, we’re 50:50 in the roles that report to the executive table and I might feel very comfortable with that but actually if I go into line roles or I go into functional roles or support roles or whatever, I might get a different profile. So you've sort of got to go searching to really define it. 

I think of it like a business problem what opportunity what problem are you trying to solve, what's the root cause and how do I fix it and you know that's where people like yourself who understand the market really well are great to talk to about those sorts of things because you can really work out if your pipeline issue is unique to your organization or is it a supply demand thing in the market. I guess it's an intellectual challenge sometimes as much as anything else and really understanding what you want but the only way to make everyone feel like they're contributing is if they feel welcome and respected. That's safe feeling, welcome feeling like you're part of the team is like a ticket to the game absolutely and so this year the theme for International Women's Day is around celebrating achievements.

I think we've all worked through challenges. I think that's the learning of 2020 and what I think is that there is nothing better to get everyone moving than having to change by necessity more than anything else. So, not surprisingly my #ChooseToChallenge this year is about being a leader and being really clear on what I expect of those around me.

My #ChooseToChallenge - which I sent out to the entire ING  team as part of International Women's Day is to actually ask all of the leaders in the ING Group to actually understand what biases exist and when I talk about bias I'm not just talking about gender.

I'm talking bias more broadly and that they better understand what's happening around them but most importantly I want to know what they're doing about it so I'll actually be calling people, I’ll be following up and saying: I asked this of you, what were your observations? What have you done about it because understanding the impact is not enough anymore. 

I also think if you make it more broadly rather than just a gender one I think the ripple effect is far greater as well and then the other part of my commitment is making it safe to speak up. 

So, not just asking that of the leader but actually from the bottom up and I do think we have a great culture like that at ING.  I’ve had a listening session today where I drop in and organize little sort of huddles with smaller groups of people. People are honest with you, they do tell you so they're my commitments.

Louise: If you think back to females looking to progress in their careers, are there any recommendations or advice that you'd give them from your own personal experiences?

Melanie: I think it's back to choose who you work with and for very carefully. I have not worked directly for a female leader this century; the last time I went directly for a female leader was 1999 so that's a long time ago. Part of my message here is that those phenomenal leaders don't just have to be female. I have worked for some remarkable men over my career who have really wanted to invest in me and if you've got someone that you're looking up to and who is so clearly invested in you, who thinks almost that you're capable of more than what you think you're capable of, they're the sorts of people who I'm talking about.

Surround yourself with people like that. You don't need to have ambition to be a CEO or a Group Executive to really benefit from making those sorts of career decisions and it's the best advice that I give anyone.

Louise:  It's very good advice. There's one other question I had for you. You talked earlier about you've got really diverse experience and you've taken on different challenges to get that - is there anything particular that's helped give you the courage?  You've sort of spoken a bit about leaders but what's giving you that courage to really put yourself out there and take on a new challenge?

Melanie: I think the first decade - I sort of put my career in sort of decades if you'd like and I've not finished the third one - the the first decade I was just naive; just do it, it's like: yeah why wouldn't I work on this merger or why wouldn't I go and work in that business? Like no one else seems to be putting their hand up or that sounds like fun so I  think my first decade was probably … my courage was probably half naivety - half: that looks exciting, that looks fun or even like: that's a good group of people, I’d love to work with them, which is fine you know early and work out what you like and what you don't like. 

The second decade of my career - and I was working in an organization that was very merit driven and very driven around leadership progression. It became much more structured for me. So, I really opened myself up to formal coaching when I got a 360. 

When I got the opportunity to go and do further study even though I'd done Business, I’'d done University, my masters - actually at that point I went back to university. So it was much more structured and I became much better at thinking about why I wanted to take the next opportunity.

I was really clear about what I wanted to get out of that job. I might not have known career-wise where it was going to take me which is probably the wrong answer. There's a lot of good answers like but I think if your objective is to gather the experiences you're better off knowing what you're going to learn rather than what's in it for you career-wise. That was the approach I took and now I guess for me, my move to ING was very much about the fact that I am becoming more senior and more accountable for running a business.

I was looking at things like what's the business model, what's the future of the industry, what can I add and do all of the things that I have in my kit bag, can I have an impact there?

It’s probably in this phase turned more to; All right, well given everything that I've collected over the last 25 years, is this the right spot for me to have the most impact? And do I think that there's a huge opportunity? 

It's changed at each point but through all of it there's been a: work hard, be surrounded by great people. We are afforded amazing experiences and in Banking we get to come into contact with people who work in the community, who run their own businesses whether they be small businesses, medium businesses or large corporates. 

The diversity of your day in Banking trumps so many other industries so I've got to say there's that working hard and enjoying that bit of your job that runs through all of that. I started as a branch teller so there was diversity in that day as much as there was diversity today for me where I  am. You can't get that in every industry and I think you really need to enjoy that and understand why you enjoy it and yeah that's probably what keeps the fire in the belly and the excitement every day I come to the office.

Louise:  It sounds like you've still got lots of energy and passion for the sector and lots to do.

Melanie: That’s not a problem at the moment. That's for sure.

Louise: Absolutely! Thank you so much. I know how busy you are and I really appreciate you giving up your time to be part of the series. So thank you.

Melanie: And thank you for doing the series; it's really important that we start sharing this sort of insight.

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