Red Alert

Women on Boards – NZ’s dismal record

Posted by on February 9th, 2012

Yesterday recruiting company Korn Ferry released a survey showing New Zealand running last in the Asia/Pacific Region for female directors on boards.

Its embarrassing that China, India, Malaysia, Siganpore, Hong Kong and Australia all fare better than us. We used to lead the world when it came to representation of women. Kate Sheppard must be turning in her grave.

I thought Institute of Directors Ralph Chivers hit the nail on the head when he said:”There is no shortage of women who aspire to work at that level, or potentially suitable candidates. Women have told us they have difficulty getting noticed for opportunities to be promoted.” How refreshingly honest! He wasn’t prepared to use the tired, worn-out excuse that the problem is women dont want to be directors, or that they weren’t good enough and needed “mentoring.” If I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard that one, I would be a wealthy woman.

Despite the National Government having a glitzy launch of a “Women on Boards” initiative aimed at the private sector in 2009, the reality is they had just scrapped the target Labour had set of getting 50% women on public sector boards. And so the survey shows that there has been no increase in the proportion of women on our boards and in the public sector (where the Government itself appoints board members) there has been no improvement on the 41% representation Labour had achieved by the time we left office. And its important, because research shows that companies do better with women involved in their decision-making. Women directors are better at risk management, less prone to group thinking, better at problem-solving and better able to link to diverse customers. That’s what research tells us.

Across the ditch, they have made some quick progress on this issue by simply requiring companies to report the facts of the organisation’s gender balance. The result has been that women now make up 25% of new appointments to ASX company boards, compared to just 5% in 2009 before the measure was brought in. In less than a year, the number of women appointed to Australia’s corporate boards has gone from 8% to 14% by just taking this simple measure.It seems that when companies are required to look at their own dismal records, that’s when women start to get noticed. We could do the same – actually we were doing something remarkably similar to this with pay equity audits in the public sector before National scrapped it when they came into Government.

Funny that!


33 Responses to “Women on Boards – NZ’s dismal record”

  1. Nanaia says:

    Good Points Made Sue!

  2. Joel says:

    I daresay I agree with National’s scrapping of the 50% quota on public sector boards – they should appoint the best candidates regardless of gender, and as long as women are not being discriminated against, there should not be a discrimination for women either.

    If it has been steady at 41%, I’d suggest that’s pretty good, to be honest. It’s greater than the percentage of women in the Labour caucus – for a start (and National’s, and NZ First’s).

    Can I ask how you propose to remedy the problem in the private sector? If it is reporting – I believe companies are required to report the names, responsibilities and salaries of all directors. Anyone interested can figure out how many of them are women, right?

    And if research shows the benefits of women directors, then companies are spiting themselves by not appointing more women – why would politicians need to interfere? Let those forward-thinking companies reap the benefits of their gender-balanced executives.

  3. Hilary says:

    I saw another report recently which mentioned that NZ directors’ fees are among the highest in the world. Could these two factors be related?

  4. Andrew Cushen says:

    I’d encourage you to give credit where credit is due too. The newly established Chorus, for example, has a 50/50 gender split on their board, with a woman in the Chair too: http://www.chorus.co.nz/the-chorus-board.

    Some companies are clearly doing better than others here.

  5. well, well, well says:

    Your post omits one part of this which is:

    How many women turn down offers of Board appointments?

    Given the number of Board members from failed finance companies before the courts in recent times this may be a significant factor.

  6. Hilary says:

    I would like to know more about how many applications from women are rejected. For example, the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, and the Office for Disability Issues, both have active databases of people who have expressed interest and have the relevant skills for boards. How many applications from women from these government agencies are actually successful? I suspect that very few are successful and most board appointments are actually from the ‘jobs for the boys’ networks whereby who you know is more important than what you know.

  7. Fortran says:

    It is usual for Board appointments in both Private and Public Companies to be made by the people who own these companies.
    Do you know how many small Private companies in New zealand have two Directors,often Husband and Wife

  8. Joel says:

    @Hillary – surely then, under Labour, ’99-’08, where Helen ran a similar policy of ‘jobs for the girls’, plenty of men would have been turned down despite having “relevant skills for boards”.

    We shouldn’t demand people who have the “relevant skills”, anyway. We should demand the absolute best, no matter what set of reproductive organs any candidate possesses.

  9. Tracey says:

    “Do you know how many small Private companies in New zealand have two Directors,often Husband and Wife” – the same number who don’t have Boards as such?

  10. Dave says:

    Shouldn’t board appointments be made on merit and the skill of the appointee, not just the contents of their underwear? Why should it matter? Ever thought that more men than women actually want to be on boards and therefore actively pursue it? God forbid there becomes a ‘requirement’ for 50% gender balance, no matter whether those involved merit the appointments. Anyone smell some pointless legislation proposal coming soon from Labour to a neighbourhood near you? If you can’t get appointed on merit, you don’t belong there. Whats next, forcing women to be on boards?

  11. Dave says:

    “And its important, because research shows that companies do better with women involved in their decision-making. Women directors are better at risk management, less prone to group thinking, better at problem-solving and better able to link to diverse customers. That’s what research tells us.”

    What research, by whom and was it peer reviewed, independent and credible. Here I disallow anything from a union given the track record for their umm, ‘research’. Citations??

  12. Whafe says:

    An interesting piece I guess, marred by the fact that it had to have a snipe at National, was it any better when Helen Clark was Prime Minister?

    Should it not be the best candidate for the role, despite gender??

  13. Cactus Kate says:

    How many NZ women choose to own their own small business instead? Lots.

    As one myself offshore, I can tell you that a director on a board may look flash and important but it is not all it is cracked up to be and comes with far more responsibility and work than you are actually ever remunerated for.

    I would be far more impressed if women saved their money better and aspired to be shareholders than the servants of shareholders which is all a director really is.

    And a question – how many NZ women feel they should be on a Board and are not because they are a woman?

  14. Colonial Viper says:

    Small businesses usually fail.

  15. Cactus Kate says:

    As do some directors. What is your point?

  16. Colonial Viper says:

    directors have no skin in the game. Risk free returns in other words – which is what the Right wing always seeks.

  17. Cactus Kate says:

    Oh for heavens sake your arguments Viper are of a lower standard than normal. That in itself I guess is an achievement.

    Sue posted about positive people wishing to succeed and all you can talk about is failure.

    You said “small businesses usually fail”..and the sad fact is losers listen to bigger losers like yourself and don’t even try because of it.

    Tell a director they have no skin in the game and the position is risk free when they are being jailed for breaching their duties. You’ve clearly no understanding of the law in New Zealand. Directors are also often shareholders in New Zealand and some are even paid in shares.

    The real risk free players are people like yourself. Anonymous keyboard giants of their own hypothetical industry with their own hypothetical achievements who have never been director, shareholder or even own up to who they are behind a keyboard speading negativity around those who are trying to do better.

  18. Tracey says:

    “Shouldn’t board appointments be made on merit and the skill of the appointee, not just the contents of their underwear? Why should it matter? ”

    Yes they should be Dave, and actually that’s the point Sue is making. There is some research from the states which shows (not surprisingly in my opinion) that like tends to hire/appoint like. We tend to appoint people like ourselves. However, the numbers do alter depending on the “type” of person hiring/appointing.

    So, white men tend to hire/appoint white men BUT they do it at a greater percentage than black men or women, who also hire larger numbers of “their own kind”, than white men BUT also hire/appoint higher percentages of white men and/or black men/women.

    To deny this happens is somewhat pointless. To suggest there is never a glass ceiling or barriers to women or (who are not actually a minority but experience similar treatment to numerical minorities)or members of minority groups is disingenuous.

    The point is if women or anyone for that matter wants to become a Board member they deserve to be treated on their merits. This is not always the case. From my own observations, it is a particular generation ( those currently late 50′s and above)who still struggle to accept that women can ever have anything to contribute. The change will come quicker (in my opinion) when the generations who are currently 40 and younger are in the positions to hire/appoint.

    There was a point when over 80% of our workforce was male (and predominantly white). In fairness tot hem, they were mainly seeing/experiencing whit men in the workforce so on what basis could they appoint to higher positions of responsibilities those outside that demographic. It’s not about blaming, it’s about education. People can’t know what they don’t know.

    The fact that many people, when defending the idea of needing more women on Boards can actually name the women on Boards (but no hope in hell of naming the men on Boards – too many to recall)speaks volumes.

    Interestingly those Boards who have appointed women to their numbers have, largely, not only not regretted it, but seen the benefit that diversity and different experience and approaches brings tot heir governance.

    “I can tell you that a director on a board may look flash and important but it is not all it is cracked up to be and comes with far more responsibility and work than you are actually ever remunerated for. ”

    I agree but with respect it’s also not the point. Afterall women are well used to doing crappy jobs that don’t remunerate well for the work put in (motherhood, nursing, teacher aides to name but three). Sometimes they do it because they see a greater benefit, for themselves and others and it’s not about the money.

    Before people jump all over me this is not meant to be an attack on men, white or otherwise. Some of my best friends are white men ;) – I’m trying to help people see that sometimes experiences they have are not the same as that of others, the world is not an idyllic equal place and that inequality is still tilted toward white men whether some of them feel it is or not. Equally men are not being evil and nasty and deliberately excluding women to be demeaning and nasty (not in my experience anyway) they actually don’t see that they are being unequal in the approaches. That’s an education issue, not a hammer over the head issue. BUT nor should society have to wait forever for them to open their eyes wider once they have been shown.

  19. Colonial Viper says:

    Tell a director they have no skin in the game and the position is risk free when they are being jailed for breaching their duties. You’ve clearly no understanding of the law in New Zealand. Directors are also often shareholders in New Zealand and some are even paid in shares.

    That’s true and my flippant one liner was inaccurate. And I agree that every small company owner/operator is also a director, often sole director, and often without the resources, professional advice and back up the corporate boards have.

    Nevertheless, trying to make out that Board members have it tough being paid a thousand or two thousand dollars a week for a few hours work a week is nonsense.

  20. Mikes76 says:

    And how many directors get jailed for breaching their duties?? The answer would be SFA. Surely if the research mentioned is accurate then shareholders of private companies will be demanding more female board members. Those companies that don’t will continue to perform less well than those that do. You can’t legislate to force owners of private companies to have 50/50 male / female split on boards. How would you police it?? You should be lobbying shareholders groups and presenting them with facts which will change their decision making when board members are appointed.

    I for one couldn’t care less if boards were 100% female or 100% male or any mix male and female. Instead of legislating board gender makeup, why not legislate so that corporations have to prove they are benefiting society in general? There are far more important issues Labour should be addressing and concentrating on.

  21. Tracey says:

    For those wanting research on the issue of companies with women on their Board out performing those without can view the research by Catalyst in 2007 and
    research undertaken by Cranfield Business School in its annual Female FTSE100 Index. Mentioned here

    http://www.professionelle.co.nz/media/37438/NZHBus4_4_08.PDF

    Having “a” woman on the board is nothing like 50%, so those deriding legislation to make 50% gender appointment compulsory are throwing a VERY large red herring into an otherwise useful discussion.

    “John Stuart Mill:

    “It is hardly possible to overrate the value, for the improvement of human beings, of things which bring them into contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar.”

  22. Hilary says:

    Joel – Your misogynist views are not based on any evidence. The PM (Helen Clark or anyone else) doesn’t and shouldn’t appoint people to boards of businesses. Government can only recommend quotas, or provide support to resource databases of appropriate candidates, in government agencies.

  23. Thomas says:

    Here is the report being discussed.

    On page 13 it shows that NZ boards are noticeably smaller on average than in the other countries being considered.

    So, not only are there fewer female board members, there are also fewer male board members.

  24. Tracey says:

    “We should demand the absolute best, no matter what set of reproductive organs any candidate possesses.”

    I couldn’t agree more and we currently sell ourselves and our country short in business by not adhering to this.

  25. Kirsten says:

    It’s not just boards and private sector companies where this is an issue. The number of women in top public sector leadership roles has actually been declining. See this recent research: http://ips.ac.nz/publications/publications/show/327

  26. Kirsten says:

    Hey Dave, thanks for the crack about union research citations. I guess we’re all in danger in thinking that our experience of the world (including unions!) is the limit of what exists. You may have a specific example in mind but just a reminder that saying something is inaccurate because it comes from a union is just as useful as saying that its inaccurate because it comes from a company, or a sports club, or an employer association, or a dog fanciers’ society etc…

  27. Iri Sinclair says:

    Sexism is alive and well in Aotearoa generally. That sexism pervades the corporate world, and boardrooms in particular is no surprise.
    Institutional racism still resides in these islands too. I wonder how many of the few Kiwi women on Boards of directors are Maori women? Some, one, none? Anyone care to elucidate?

  28. Dave says:

    @Kirsten, just going on the MUNZ “facts” they have produced, which to date have been refuted by audited accounts. One example of many I have experienced.

  29. Dave says:

    @Iris, what’s your solution then? Compulsory Maori women on every board, make Maori women apply to be board members regardless of whether they want to? As much as men don’t pursue primary teaching and nursing in the same numbers as women, women don’t pursue business as a career in the same numbers as men those are the facts and are backed by University graduation lists for Gods sake. Thats the problem, lack of women WANTING to be on boards and be in business. Its not some perceived bias flamed by paranoia against gender, race, orientation, skin colour or any other demographic characteristic. The hysteria about this is sickening, as is the obvious lack of any solution or policy, from those that complain, to mitigate these perceptions, other than the usual suggestions of yet more legislation, and even more complaining. If you want it then “Earn It!”.

  30. al1ens says:

    I saw a docco on tvnz7 about this earlier this week.
    It may still be on the website (obviously not for long with coleman’s incompetence abounding) and is well worth a look for some of those here posting emotives rather than facts.

    It would seem Norway’s rigourous enforcement of their 50/50 gender split policy has had impressive results right across the board. (pun intended).
    Aside from immediately lowering the average age of directors and increasing accademic capability, productivity was also increased.

    Guess it’s not so hard to understand fat cat opposition knowing they’re on a deserved hiding.

  31. tracey says:

    dave – you obviously didnt bother to read any of the links i posted which refute your assumption that low representation is a matter of lack of want. I was interested to read in the herald online about the halberg awards yesterday. At the end of nicholas’ summary was a conten list headed ” big winners”. The first three awards were in bold type. Valerie vili was in non bold and the disbked athlete of the year didnt make the list. Nicholas cinfirmed to me that this was the editors choice not his.

    Dave are you lecturing maths again this year?

  32. tracey says:

    Good try aliens but some here dont like to read anything which challenges their opinion masquerading as fact. Thanks for the info on norway am off to read some more.

  33. Iri Sinclair says:

    Dave,
    The gender or ethnicity of directors of private companies isn’t of particular interest to me. However, in terms of the membership of boards of public bodies – the state has an opportunity to encourage diversity of representation, and so ensure that Maori and other women may participate in governance and make a positive contribution to NZ society. The benefits of decision-makers being diverse in terms of the make-up of Boards is of value, in the same way that MMP has delivered a more diverse Parliament which is reflective of NZ society. Under FPP, Parliaments were invariably made up of white men, farmers and lawyers and teachers in the main. There were usually only 4 Maori MPs, and these held the old 4 Maori Seats of Nth, Eastern, Western & Southern Maori. Thank goodness things have moved on from then.
    I am watching with interest however, the criminal prosecutions of former National Ministers including Sir Doug Graham and Sir Stephen O’Regan in their roles as directors of various Hanover companies…