Female representation in New Zealand’s largest companies is still a work in progress. Well, technically speaking, it’s an embarrassment.
In New Zealand, less than 30 percent of board directors are women and 27 companies – nearly a fifth of all those listed on the NZX – have no women on their boards.
The Westpac Diversity Dividend Report produced by Deloitte a few years back found this situation isn’t just bad for women, but New Zealand’s economy overall, which is missing out on $881 million dollars, and a 0.33 percent increase in our GDP because of the lack of gender parity in leadership. This same Diversity Dividend Report found one-third of respondents cited organisational and workplace culture as the reason for not reaching gender parity in leadership, while 49 percent cited lack of talent as the top barrier. Still, there is hope on the horizon.
If women can’t get into leadership positions, they are increasingly creating their own. The number of women entering the small business sector in New Zealand has risen by 38 percent in the past five years. In fact, one in three of all business owners are women here – the fourth highest rate in the world and according to a recent report by MYOB, New Zealand is the number one spot in the world “for entrepreneurial conditions enabling women’s ability to thrive as business owners/entrepreneurs”. The same report found that women are more likely to start a business for flexibility, be first-time business owners and run multiple businesses.
This flexibility can be a lot tougher on the corporate side as Theresa Gattung, the former CEO of Telecom, will attest to. “I was 37 years old and I was asked, did I intend to have kids? Does that sound familiar? At the time, a quite young man – the same age as me, had become treasurer – yes, Bill English. No one was asking him whether he was on child number three, four, five or whatever?”
Women, of course, don’t need to start a small business to have influence over it. MYOB also highlights the fact that women control a growing chunk of B2B spending. The office is most often managed by a female, especially in small businesses. These women are more likely to be charged with finance and administration decisions than males. Bookkeeping and payroll administrators’ positions are also heavily skewed towards women.
But despite these trends and levels of influence, there are still hurdles to overcome. While women are making marked advances as business owners globally, some deeply entrenched factors, such as gender bias, are constraining their ability to start or grow a business.
Over 51 percent of women report a lack of confidence in personal abilities as a number one obstacle preventing them from meeting their career aspirations.
“I find that women are often interested in improvement and men in advancement. I am often approached by women who are looking for a mentor. I have never been approached by a man and asked would I mentor them? Men aren’t looking for mentoring to improve themselves, they want sponsors who can give them the big jobs, the advancement in the companies they’re in or an adjacent one, and so on. There is this whole different approach,” suggests Gattung.
“It is OK to ask for a mentor. It wasn’t really a thing when I went through the ranks. It is a thing now. It seems to be OK to have a coach or a mentor. I’m not knocking that, but if what you really want is to go to the top, then it is OK to be more ambitious and to be more driven about that.
“You can do that in a way that doesn’t mean you aren’t still yourself and bring your full value as a woman to the table,” she says.
MYOB summarise their report with the importance of gender equality in business and how it benefits everyone including the fact that it’s good for both men and women to shift stereotypical ideas around gender roles — just as the status quo is holding women back from leadership roles, it is holding men back from embracing caretaking and support roles. It’s also good for families, whether they rely on women as the sole breadwinners or share a two-earner income and it’s good for businesses to draw on the creativity of a diverse staff and recognise the purchasing power of women. And it’s good for the country, because the more diverse the pool, the more talented our leaders will be.
And while we have drawn on MYOB’s research here, they aren’t standing back pointing fingers. In 2017, MYOB completed its first gender pay-gap analysis and it continues to focus on this area with regular reviews, to ensure no pay gap exists between men and women in equivalent positions.
Gattung reiterates the importance of normalising women in leadership.
“We have to have boards that are properly gender diverse, not just one or two token women, because men stop at that point if they feel threatened.
“Women chairs, more women CEOs, women running the profit divisions of the companies and not just running HR and marketing. They have to run the economic drivers in the country and when you do that and people see that, girls believe that that career is possible for them.
“We have to have that shift in enough numbers that it becomes the new normal.”
The implication here is that the organisations best set to flourish and help drive Aotearoa’s economy forward are those actively pursuing diversity at every level.