Diversity in the Commonwealth Bank: Alan Docherty CA
A lust for travel brought Alan Docherty CA to Australia in 2000. Love, and diversity, have kept him here.
Growing up in a working-class family, near Govan in Glasgow, a young Alan was inspired by his parents to study for an accounting degree thanks to their work ethic.
Witnessing his parents work long hours in blue-collar jobs to provide for their family instilled a strong sense of principles.
“They both worked full-time for most of my life,” recalled Alan. “Growing up in Scotland I had the opportunity of a free university education. That meant I had more opportunities than my parents, so I owed it to them to take advantage of that.”
Why accounting? Because it offered a chance of travel. In other professions, such as law, your career prospects may well be fairly localised. But the accounting discipline, Alan realised, would be global in nature.
After graduating, Alan took a job with Coopers & Lybrand (PwC) in Glasgow. A few years later, after earning his CA qualification from ICAS, he decided to take his career international.
“I had my heart set on Sydney as a destination,” he said. “Friends of mine, including a couple of CAs, had worked here for a period and recommended it very highly. So, I transferred here with Arthur Andersen in 2000 and have lived here ever since.”
In 2003, Alan joined the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA - the tenth largest bank in the world by market capitalisation) to lead a project around the conversion of the bank to international accounting standards.
After that two-year project, he rotated around the organisation in several diverse roles. He currently leads the finance function for their $3 billion turnover institutional banking division and also heads up the CBA Group’s regulatory and economic capital function.
Why did you decide to stay in Australia?
“I came here on my own and didn’t know a soul. I told everyone I was here for two years. There were a lot of people around me at work who were my age and it was a very vibrant social scene. Sydney is a very easy place to live.
Sydney's a very welcoming, friendly, multicultural place. And professionally, I've had an absolute ball in every role I’ve performed.
“What held me here? I met my wife over here. She's a Sydney-sider, of Armenian descent, and we've got three young daughters. The climate is obviously great. Sydney's a very welcoming, friendly, multicultural place. And professionally, I've had an absolute ball in every role I’ve performed.”
You’re also chair of CBA Group’s Financial Services Diversity Council. What does that involve?
“There are around 2000 professionals who support all of the businesses within the CBA Group across finance, treasury, property, security and procurement functions. Collectively they form the Financial Services division.
“The Financial Services Diversity Council is a committee that looks after the diversity and inclusion agenda across that group.”
‘Diversity’ is very broad. How do you focus?
“We focus on three strategic pillars. There’s ‘Inclusive Leadership’, which is about helping leaders develop a mindset of inclusion. This is important because if you manage and lead in an inclusive way then you will encourage high performance by bringing the best out of your people.
“The second is ‘Gender Diversity in Leadership’. Ten years ago, women represented 60% of CBA’s staff but only 20% of its leadership ranks. In 2010, we set a public goal to achieve 35% females in senior leadership roles by 2015. We did that. We’re now committed to achieving 40% by 2020.
If you manage and lead in an inclusive way then you will encourage high performance by bringing the best out of your people.
“The third pillar is what we call ‘You Can Be You’. It’s about allowing people to bring the best of themselves, and to be themselves, at work.
“It covers a range of initiatives and is aimed at attracting and retaining the full range of talent available in our community regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, cultural diversity or disability.”
Why is diversity important to you?
“There are several reasons that I’m passionate about this. Selfishly speaking, the fact is that I've got three young daughters. I simply want them to have the same opportunities that have been afforded to me.
“Organisationally speaking, while there is obviously a moral imperative to remove inequality, there’s also a commercial imperative. If you look at Australian and British tertiary education completion statistics, they tell us that women are smarter than men. Bachelor degree completion rates are 60% female and 40% male.
“So in any big organisation, if you've got disproportionately fewer women in leadership roles, then by extension you're underweight your natural market share of talent. You're diminishing the intellectual power of your organisation. From a business perspective that doesn't make sense.”
Are the business’s male staff supportive?
“I'm often conscious when I talk about gender diversity, some men may switch off. Our experience is that talented men are attracted to teams that draw from the very best pool of talent.
“Also, men increasingly want to work flexibly, or play a greater role in parenting. A lot of what we’re doing explicitly benefits all staff, and celebrates rather than stigmatises men who want to be better fathers and partners.”
What does all of this have to do with accounting?
“More than half of the job is about leadership. When you look after large teams of people in big organisations a lot of the job is about creating and maintaining high-performing teams and attracting the best talent. If you're not looking at diversity and inclusion as a core part of that, you're not leading your team properly.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.