Thursday 13th February 2014
The announcement at Davos last month that Westpac was ranked #1 in the ‘Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World’ prompted us to think about what goes into creating the world’s most sustainable company. Westpac recently launched a video of the 100 reasons why they received this recognition, and clearly, it’s been years in the making. Below is an extract of an interview with Siobhan Toohill, Head of Group Sustainability and Community, where we explore what it takes to become the world’s most sustainable bank and how focusing on women has contributed to sustainability.
GBA: How do you define ‘corporate sustainability’?
Siobhan Toohill: I really see sustainability as ensuring that things that are in really great shape for future generations. Making sure that whatever we do today creates better outcomes for the future. The way we think about it at Westpac is how do we as a bank leverage our capabilities to address major social issues.
GBA: How has the definition of corporate ‘sustainability evolved over time. In the old days it seemed to be more about ‘eco’ and eco investments?
Siobhan Toohill: For Westpac it has always been a real balance between the social and the environmental and that really makes sense for a bank. When you think about it, money is about a social relationship and sustainability is about how the social relationships created around money supports the society that we see around us.
GBA: Being sustainable encompasses a lot of different areas for a bank, from green buildings to investing in renewable energy to D&I to community development. Assuming that it’s difficult to tackle all of these at once, is there an order of priority that you suggest for banks that are starting the sustainability journey?
Siobhan Toohill: I definitely think banks should start where there is the biggest need and also the biggest opportunity for the organization. Can you address an emerging social need in the community in which you operate in, harness core capabilities and potentially create new business opportunity for yourselves. So identifying that ‘sweet spot’ around creating business value and community value that’s really where you need to focus.
GBA: As you are really mature in your sustainability approach, how do the different areas you work on mutually reinforce each other?
Siobhan Toohill: I think of it as an ecosystem because it involves a range of internal and external stakeholders. And its all about how it comes together in terms of leveraging different initiatives, people, leaders right across the organization and beyond to realize that vision of how we enable our people, our customers and our communities to prosper and grow. We have a broad and deep ecosystem that helps us realize that.
GBA: What role can the GBA play in this?
Siobhan Toohill: I think the Global Banking Alliance is really important to how we connect with other banks internationally. I met a colleague from Itau Unibanco late last year and it’s been fascinating to learn from her and I’ve taken some of her ideas and am now finding a way of integrating them into Westpac’s approach.
GBA: Imposing a gender lens, beyond D&I, what does Westpac do to support women’s economic empowerment?
Siobhan Toohill: We start with our employees. One of our key metrics in our sustainability is understanding the financial health of our women who are over 40. We have an express target to ensure that our women’s financial health is the same as our men’s, and we’ve set ourselves tight time frame to realize that. Because we know that it starts with us, if we get that right, then we are in a better place to achieve that with our customers as well.
We have a commitment to bank the unbanked in the Pacific with a particular focus on women. We support them growing their businesses and have leadership awards, recognizing women entrepreneurs, celebrating their achievements, and put women’s leadership in the spotlight.
GBA: Do you have a strategy to integrate women owned SMEs into your supply chain?
Siobhan Toohill: Yes. We have an extensive survey in place in terms of our sustainable supply chain management approach. We have a whole raft of criteria including diversity criteria that we call up when we are selecting suppliers. There are many facets to that including diversity, a commitment to women in leadership, environmental aspects and right through to human rights considerations, depending on the jurisdiction from where the supplier is from.
GBA: When you think of Ruby, how does that program contribute to Westpac’s sustainability?
Siobhan Toohill: I think Ruby, really walks the talk for us. It showcases our commitment to supporting women customers, helping connect them with each other, creating that really supportive environment and of course connecting women in our business with our Ruby customers.
This is then aligned with our internal strategy of supporting women in the bank to become successful business leaders. 42% of our leaders, defined as Branch Manager and above, are women and we have an aspirational target of hitting 50% by 2017.
We also have a commitment to helping our women staff have a better relationship with money. We know that typically women are retiring with less accumulated wealth than men, we really want to lift that, to change that. And by helping women who are leading their own businesses become more successful, that’s a great way for us to achieve that outcome as well.
GBA: There’s a fair amount of emerging evidence about the link between women in the Board and leadership of corporations and sustainability, do you think having a woman CEO and a high percent of your leadership positions held by women, has an influence on Westpac’s attitudes towards sustainability?
Siobhan Toohill: We know that having a diverse leadership core means that we better understand our customers and our stakeholders. We also know that when we are assessed for sustainability, we know that the analysts are really looking for the hard data around diversity and in particular around women in leadership. They want to see women on the executive team and on the board because that’s one way of them seeing that we really do understand those customers.
GBA: Winning the 100 awards last month, what was the benefit for you as a leader of sustainability inside Westpac?
Siobhan Toohill: So a couple of benefits. It’s a great way for us to recognize the work of our people, who have been committed to sustainability at Westpac for such a long time. It’s also that sense of what more can we do? How do we sustain this leadership? The fact that it was discussed so widely in the media, that it is not just a nice thing to do but that it impacts your bottom line, is really important.
GBA: Three of the nine banks in the Global 100 are Australian. What is it about Australian banks that have them on this list?
Siobhan Toohill: I was quite delighted to see that. I think its because we have been observing each other, engaging with each other, operating within the Australian landscape together. And it is not just the Australian banks, its Australian companies in other sectors. There is a real culture of addressing the future and of course to get on the Global 100 a company has to be doing well financially, and that reflects the strength of our economy. But I do think there is a real spirit in the country, Australians value sustainability. It is seen as what leaders simply do. We’ve all learned from each other and I think its quite exciting to be part of that cohort.
GBA: The Global 100 Index has a metric for women on the board, how do other indices treat gender?
Siobhan Toohill: There are many different sustainability indices out there-the FTSE for Good, Dow Jones Sustainability Index etc. Their composition is slightly different, and their areas of focus differ somewhat and their methodologies are slightly different. Some have more complex ways of looking at diversity, for example looking at number of women at all levels of the organization, looking at pay differentials and looking at what companies are doing to address women and diversity in the communities. Different analysts look at different facets of diversity. What I can say is that gender is very much on the agenda across all these indices; it’s a really critical feature. For an organization to be a leader in sustainability, diversity and a commitment to women in leadership is a really important part of that.
GBA: Do you think the indices will start looking at what companies do to support women in terms of their economic development?
Siobhan Toohill: I think they already are. In order to do economic development well, you have to understand what is the need of the community and to help that community be successful and thrive. We know that helping women become more financially empowered and more financially successful is really a core part of that.
GBA: Why did Westpac sign the UN Empowerment Principles?
Siobhan Toohill: For us, it is intrinsic to who we are, in terms of our community, our role with the GBA. It lines up with absolutely what we stand for.
GBA: What did it mean operationally and reporting wise to join the UN Empowerment Principles?
Siobhan Toohill: As much as we can, when we become a signatory to for example the empowerment principles or other principles, we build it into our sustainability reporting, our goal is to make sure that our one report can fit all. It has a rich set of metrics that we know our stakeholders are looking for, including our employees.
GBA: Should other banks join the UN Empowerment Principles?
Siobhan Toohill: Absolutely, when you think about who your customer base is, the base that you want to grow, that is absolutely around women, and to sign up really is a very public demonstration of that commitment.
GBA: What is your vision for sustainability at Westpac, and what role will women play in that?
Siobhan Toohill: My vision is that we continue to help our people, our customers and communities prosper and grow and that the success of women in leadership, in running businesses and in running community organizations is also part of our success and the success of Australia. A strong Australia means a strong Westpac.
—As told to the Global Banking Alliance for Women