ANZ chairman John Morschel says it is crazy for businesses not to have women account for half of their management teams.
But he understands Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s difficulties in achieving the same standard in federal cabinet.
Speaking about company culture at a function in Sydney, Mr Morschel said the reason for businesses to pursue gender diversity was simple.
“About 50 per cent of the population is female and if you’re in a business dealing with the Australian community, you’d be absolutely crazy not to have an objective of having 50 per cent of your management of female gender,” he said.
“It really just doesn’t make any sense to me not to have it.”
Companies need to encourage more women into all levels of management and boardroom roles, but that was only possible if more attention was paid to training and recruitment, Mr Morschel said.
“You have to have the available resources from which to select those people,” he said.
“For a position to be sustainable the position has to be filled on a merit basis.”
About 40 per cent of ANZ’s employees are female, but in senior management that is only about 22 per cent, Mr Morschel said.
“It is really a great struggle because the appropriate attention hasn’t been paid to recruiting and training people, women particularly, to fulfill senior management roles,” he said.
“So I dare say the prime minister had similar sorts of issues to deal with and he’s dealt with them the best way he possibly can.”
The bank chairman also mounted an emphatic defence of chief executive Mike Smith’s $10 million pay packet, which has made him Australia’s highest paid banking boss.
“Most shareholders and members of the public don’t have any comprehension of what is involved in running an organsiation which, in the case of ANZ, has a market capitalisation in excess of $70 billion, it operates in 33 different countries, it employes 50,000 people, it is a very, very highly regulated business,” Mr Morschel said.
“It is a huge task.
“In addition to that you are trying to recruit or retain an executive that has appropriate experience in the business and generalist bankers … are very very hard to find.
“I can assure you the board of ANZ doesn’t want to pay the chief executive any more than is absolutely necessary.
“But I think the performance of the organisation reflects the calibre of the chief executive and also his remuneration reflects what the global market is prepared to pay for him.”
Mr Morschel said he was “very relieved” when Mr Smith rejected an approach to go and run Barclays Bank in 2012.
“He was offered, I would dare say, a lot more money,” Mr Morschel said.
“I don’t know the details of that, but I think we’re damn lucky to have him.”