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Opinion split on female executive gap

Opinions are divided on the gender imbalance in New Zealand and Australian boardrooms.

Today marks International Women's Day, an occasion devoted to celebrating the supposedly fairer sex.

Opinions are divided, however, on the gender imbalance in New Zealand and Australian boardrooms.

According to an Australia and New Zealand Board of Directors survey by executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles women blame lack of access to old boys' networks.

On the other hand, men believe there's a lack of women at the senior executive level.

The results of the study, conducted by Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg and researcher Deborah Bell, showed that 90 percent of women were relegated to non-executive director roles (compared to 42 percent of men) despite being better educated than their male counterparts – 60 percent had an advanced degree compared to 41 percent of men.

Networks were the key factor in obtaining board seats, although almost one in two women – double the number of men – had to actively seek out their first board seat.

But no women directors saw a shortage of female execs as posing a barrier. Half of the women cited gender as a factor in their board appointments, although not a single man did.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of women, compared with a third of men, thought having three or more women on a board made it more effective – findings backed by a study last year that found NZX companies with higher proportions of women on their boards fared better.

Directors in both countries were divided on the issue of quotas for women on boards, with most against.

This week the European Union said it was moving closer to introducing mandatory quotas because companies had failed to make sufficient progress in gender equality.

The Australian exchange has moved toward requiring all publicly listed companies to declare how many women and minorities they have in senior roles and as directors, leading to a 50 percent jump in female representation on boards in less than two years.