The tone from the top: BPAY Chair Lynda McMillan on driving cultural change

- By Collaborative Media & Publishing
The tone of Lynda McMillan's voice – quiet and controlled – belies the power of her words.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia executive and BPAY Group chair has a passion for the payments sector and the whirring pace of innovation that is changing our everyday lives.

But words such as "disheartening" and "frustrating" quickly pepper her language when the conversation turns to gender inequity.

"I can reflect back on the days when I first started my career of making sure that I had a voice that could be heard and having to fight some of those battles back then. I can't believe that 25 years later, we're still fighting for that," she says.

"And you reflect on your children – I've got a 25-year-old daughter – and I would have thought by the time she started work she wouldn't have to deal with any of these issues."  

Yet the rate of change across corporate Australia has been glacial, with only 10 female CEOs running ASX 200 companies[1] and women holding less than one-third of board seats[2].

The issue exploded at the start of the year as Parliament House's toxic workplace culture and lack of female leaders was put in the spotlight, galvanising a broader movement across society.

Driving long-term change will take a multi-faceted approach, McMillan says, pointing to the need for ongoing education and the role of boards and executives in advancing gender equality. But even that may not be enough without further measures.

"I think the only way to see real change is to be disciplined with putting measures in place and review those regularly to ensure they’re fair and equitable."

Detractors claim quotas work against merit-based appointments, but the reality is they simply level the playing field. Around half of all countries now have some form of legislated or voluntary quotas for gender representation in parliament[3]. Belgium is just one example of their effectiveness, with female members of its Chamber of Representatives rising from 16% to 41% since quotas were introduced[4].

Financial services sector focus on social justice

McMillan's interest in gender equality reflects a long-standing social conscience. Early in her career, she volunteered in Rwanda and Cambodia, running leadership courses with teachers. More recently, she has worked with surfing organisations – another personal passion – encouraging surfers to give back to the community.

"I've always had a strong social justice belief, which is part of my ingrained value system and comes from my family."

Social justice wasn’t always a priority in the financial services industry, but the Royal Commission has galvanised a deeper cultural change in the past few years. Companies are no longer being managed solely to profit shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders.

Banks demonstrated this renewed focus by deferring repayments on more than 800,000 home and business loans at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020, according to data from the Australian Banking Association[5].

"I was particularly proud of the way banks acted in terms of making sure that we supported small business in particular. It's part of all corporates’ license to operate now and when you're sitting on a board, you really do have to make sure that it is communicated throughout the organisation."

Strong leadership is crucial

McMillan officially joined the BPAY Group board in April 2018 after spending more than two decades with CBA. She is currently CBA's Head of Payments Representation, working with regulators and government to shape the sector.

"I've been doing payments now for 11 years – because payments is always changing, it's always so challenging, but there's also lots of innovation. Once it gets in your blood, it kind of stays there."

Pleasingly, the majority of the BPAY board seats are currently held by women (three of the four directors – one representing each major bank). McMillan says other women embarking on a board career should put themselves forward (even if they feel they are not perfectly qualified), be authentic, and find supporters or mentors.

"That's how I got my first Board role, through a connection of a connection of a connection – so quite distant – but they put me forward. It's getting the backing of a support group together that can understand who you are and then support you."

BPAY’s board meets once a month, with a proposed merger between BPAY Group, the New Payments Platform Australia, and eftpos a recent focus.

"The biggest challenge BPAY is facing at the moment is the uncertainty around the company structure. But we have to put that to the side and remain focused on our strategy, including new ways to innovate and how we can continue to drive up revenue. We also really want to focus on the culture – how to keep up the high level of staff engagement and morale."

BPAY was one of Australia’s best places to work in 2020, with an employee engagement score of 92% from Culture Amp. It has also worked hard to tackle gender issues, including more than halving the gender pay gap over recent years.

Strong leadership is crucial and McMillan is playing her part to ensure the next generation of female staff in financial services won’t have to fight the same battles she has.
 
[1] CEW ASX200 Senior Executive Census - Chief Executive Women. (2021, February 14). Retrieved from https://cew.org.au/topics/asx200-census
[2] Board Diversity Statistics. (2021, April 21). Retrieved from https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/advocacy/board-diversity/statistics
[3] International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). Retrieved from https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/quotas
[4] OECD 'Why quotas work for gender equality'. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/social/quotas-gender-equality.htm
[5] Majority of deferred loans back on track - Australian Banking Association. (2020, November 17). Retrieved from https://www.ausbanking.org.au/majority-of-deferred-loans-back-on-track

Published by BPAY Pty Ltd (ABN 69 079 137 518) email: marketing@bpay.com.au. The BPAY Scheme is managed by BPAY Pty Limited.  When you use BPAY payment products, the BPAY Scheme is paid fees relating to processing costs and BPAY Scheme membership.  Contact your financial institution to see if it offers BPAY payment products and to get the Product Disclosure Statement.  Any financial product advice provided by BPAY Pty Limited in relation to BPAY payment products is general advice only and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs.  Before acting on such advice, you should review the Product Disclosure.

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