Women on boards up, but another 35 years for gender equality in NZ

Women now represent 14.75% of the top 100 companies by market capitalisation listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, according to the latest New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2012, published by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. “This is the first time New Zealand has climbed over 10% and the increase is partly due to the influence of companies with dual listing on the Australian Stock Exchange,” says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor. “The effect across the Tasman of gender diversity reporting has had a positive follow on effect in New Zealand and we can expect a bit more of an increase once the NZX’s diversity rule comes into play at the end of the year. However, at the current rate of progress it will be another 35 years before boardroom gender equality is achieved,” says Dr McGregor.

The benchmark Census report which has been published every two years since 2004, shows the top 100 companies listed on the NZSX have made a 5.43 percentage point gain in female representation as directors in the past two years.
This comprises 90 directorships held by 69 women in 55 companies. Fourteen women have multiple directorships, up from 8 in 2010. Seven women, including three female directors of fund companies hold three directorships each. Seven other women have two directorships each so “we have not yet seen the emergence of an “old girls’” network to rival the “old boys’ network”, says Dr McGregor. At least 12 overseas directors are among the women on the boards of the top 100.
“A total of 45 companies in the top 100 are still without female representation which is simply poor business and unacceptable in 2012. These include two top 10 companies, TrustPower and Sky Network Television, companies which have no excuses.”

The 55 companies in the top 100 with female-held directorships is an increase of 12 companies from 2010. “What is really great to see is that nine top 100 companies now have three female directors on their boards, compared with two companies only in 2010. Governance experts have long regarded 30% as the level in which the women’s perspective can make a real difference,” she said.

The female representation on the 40 companies listed on the NZDX (NZX Debt Market) has also increased by more than 5% over two years to 15.19%, while the NZX Alternative Market has slipped slightly to 6.31%. “It is pleasing to see slow, incremental gains for women in corporate governance but it is now clear that New Zealand is a follower rather than a leader. We’re the 15th country to introduce gender diversity reporting by listed companies and we’re middle of the pack internationally now European countries have adopted government-mandated quotas.” Dr McGregor is critical of “low bar” target setting for women’s governance, despite New Zealand’s commitment internationally to human rights conventions relating to gender equality. “Setting a target of 10% for women in corporate governance is not a stretch to put it mildly,” she says.

International Womens' Day 2011

James Bond supports International Women's Day

Watch the two-minute short, specially commissioned for International Women’s Day, featuring 007 star Daniel Craig and featuring the voice of Dame Judi Dench to highlight the levels of inequality that persist between men and women in the UK and worldwide.

The Q word

A “quota” row has broken out in Australia over the dearth of women on corporate boards. On International Women’s Day the Governor-General Quentin Bryce called for quotas to break the stranglehold of the “old boys network” to ensure more female directors on Australian company boards.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey also said he would back enforced quotas that ensured 30 per cent of board positions were occupied by women.

The quota word is seldom heard in New Zealand which languishes even further behind the percentage for women on top corporate boards than Australia (9.32% of the top 100 companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange compared with Australia’s 11 per cent of the top 200 companies listed on the Australia Securities Exchange). That’s because calls for gender-based affirmative action in the corporate sector are roundly condemned by business leaders, the New Zealand Exchange, and other incumbent directors.

Here’s the Australian debate:

G-G calls for female quotas
Business boys’ club won’t change without a push
Abbott says women should earn board positions
Hockey backs quota for women on boards
Gender equality has limits in Norway

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table aims to improve the diversity of boards of directors in New Zealand. It is a partnership between the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and the EEO Trust and aims to boost the numbers of women and others in governance positions. The Place at the Table: The Way Forward forum was held at the University of Auckland Business School in October 2009 at which prominent board chairs, senior women in governance and community representatives identified positive strategies for the future. Visiting international governance expert, Professor Susan Vinnicombe, of Cranfield University spoke at the forum about international efforts to improve the numbers and status of women on boards.

The main ideas and suggestions from the 2009 forum have been grouped into thematic areas. There was a high degree of commonality in the ideas from the different groups of participants.

1) Encouraging human capital reporting

– Persuading boards to report composition and diversity to the New Zealand Stock Exchange, in annual reports, etc
– Develop standards for human capital reporting
– Make reporting on diversity for listed companies mandatory
– Mandatory advertising for Board appointments

2) Mainstreaming the business case

– Making discussion of diversity part of business awards, AGMs,Top 200 Awards, business conferences, shareholder organisations, part of mainstream media reporting of business – not just “diversity” or HR focused media
– Engage business journalists to report on these issues
– Continue research into the business case for diversity on boards

3) Telling the story

– Develop A Place at the Table website for continuing contributions
– Develop New Zealand case studies and local research that prove the business case qualitatively and quantitatively, partnering with key influencers (eg Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Institute of Directors)
– What are the different pathways (and alleyways) to first – and subsequent – appointments? How can these be defined and refined?
– Profile women who are ready to be directors
– Separate out the national productivity debate from business case for diversity/women on boards
– Continue feeding information and facts to a wide range of media

4) Men as champions

– Encourage chairs to actively state the case for diversity and tell the stories of success
– Identify potential champions in public and private sectors
– Engage and create key groups within professional bodies and institutes to support women eg Institute of Directors, legal, tax, accountants etc

5) Mentoring and Leadership

– What do we need to do/ set up to ensure talent is mentored in an effective, long-term, and practical way?
– Ensure mentoring and education programmes for board roles encompasses financial understanding;
– Encourage women who have been successful to mentor others (eg Global Women) and to act as advocates for other women;
– Develop mentoring/leadership programmes within and across organisations (eg NZ Post, universities’ Women in Leadership programme)

6) Bridging the divide

– Open pathways between public sector and private sector boards; participants discussed the lack of crossover between the NFP/SOE and private company boards
– Skills do not appear to be seen as transferable or as relevant – yet men do cross over this divide (work needs to be done on the impact of the perception that experience in these areas is not as valid)
– Women who are successful in smaller businesses or NFPs often achieving success with fewer resources than those in larger businesses
– Ensure directorships are advertised

7) Setting targets

– Encourage performance targets for directors
– Encourage targets for diversity on long lists for Board appointments
– Encourage targets for private companies as well as SOE boards