New Zealand’s top 10 most influential women for 2015

Business people dominated this year’s Women of Influence awards, with winners ranging from top corporate leaders to a hip hop dance champion with her own successful choreography business and dance troupe.

Sport people, politicians, celebrities, eat your hearts out. This year's Women of Influence awards were dominated by people in business, including the supreme award, which this year went to Joan Withers, former CEO of Fairfax and now chair of Mighty River Power and TVNZ, a director of ANZ, and a member of the Treasury Advisory Board.

Withers quit school without going to university, became a bank teller, and then worked her way up the ranks in media sales and management before rising to lead two NZX15 companies – the only woman to date to do that.

Withers has been a champion of getting more diversity around the board table, and earlier this year was outspoken in condemning figures showing only 14% of New Zealand directors were women, up only slightly from 12% in 2013. Many boards still have no women directors at all.

"Somebody needs to be asking questions of the chairmen of these companies, as to why they didn't see their way clear to finding a qualified woman,” she told business reporter Richard Meadows.

"I cannot believe there are not women who would absolutely be adding to the wisdom of that board."

Withers also won the board and management category.

The Women of Influence Awards, now in their third year, are sponsored by Fairfax and Westpac and celebrate “remarkable, leading women shaping the future of New Zealand and recognise the impact they are making in their home country and overseas”.

Category winners:

Business Enterprise: Linda Jenkinson, a serial entrepreneur, originally from Palmerston North, now based in San Francisco.

Jenkinson started her career with Price Waterhouse, and later co-founded Dispatch Management Services, which is now a $250 million, Nasdaq listed company. Since then she has created two US-based concierge service, LesConcierges and Porthos, as well as a non-profit, WOW for Africa, which provides capital and training for African SMEs. Last year Jenkinson was judged

 for her entrepreneurial successes in the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand. Judges commented that Linda’s influence is not restricted to business. She is a member of the New Zealand Olympic Counsel, an advisor for leading New Zealand incubator, The Icehouse, and a Director and Secretary of the Massey University Foundation.

Innovation: Education futurist and The Mind Lab founder, Frances Valintine.

She “won the Innovation Award for being at the forefront of change in education. Frances stood out in this category and judges commended her vision, passion and results in creating a new approach to education.”

Young Leader: Parris Goebel, dancer, choreographer to the stars, former Young New Zealander of the year, and three-time World Hip-Hop Dance Champion with her dance crew, The Royal Family.

“At 23 years old, she owns a dance studio, pioneered her own unique style of dance, and has choreographed for stars like Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Janet Jackson and most recently, Justin Bieber. Parris spearheaded the success of a number of dance crews at the prestigious World Hip Hop International Championships, leading all-female dancers, Request, to win gold and put New Zealand on the global stage of hip-hop dance.

Arts and Culture: Victoria Spackman, co-owner and CEO of film and TV production company Gibson Group and former chair of Wellington’s Bats Theatre “Victoria’s contribution and effort to revive Bats Theatre, and transform the board to one at the forefront of a vibrant and in-demand theatre was crucial to the survival and evolution of the organization. Her continued work in the creative sectors is to be highly commended. The judges noted Victoria’s influence touches not only Wellington theatre goers, but our TV screens, and exhibitions and museums around the world.”

Public Policy: Vicky Robertson, Secretary for the Environment and chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment, and previously deputy CEO and Coo at Treasury.

"Whether it was speaking about the competition policy at the 1995 APEC summit in Osaka, reviewing the Climate Change Policy and KiwiSaver scheme or leading Treasury to explore new approaches to policy design, she is making a huge impact for a prosperous New Zealand.”

Community and Not-for-Profit: Anti-violence and children’s advocate Stacey Shortall

“The award recognises the depth and breadth of her contribution and influence in her work with children. This includes developing a weekly homework club at a decile one school, initiatives in the battle against domestic violence, advocating against violence toward children and developing a prison programme to help jailed mothers maintain meaningful connections with their children.”

Diversity: Colonel Karyn Thompson, the most senior military woman in the New Zealand Defence Force, and an advocate for diversity and inspiring women to enter a career in the military.

“The judges recognised that in such a male dominated environment, the work of Karyn is instrumental in breaking down barriers and creating positive change for women.”

Global (a new award in 2015): Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas.

Jonas has been on the board of numerous arts and educational institutions, including being the first woman to chair The Royal Opera House in London.

“Since moving to London in 1973, her influence at the highest levels has stretched across academia, the private sector, local government, the arts and volunteer sector.”

Rural (new category in 2015): Katie Milne, a West Coast farmer, national board member for Federated Farmers and finalist in the 2015 Dairy Woman of the Year Award.

“As a young mum and farmer, Katie did the hard yards juggling farming, parenthood and an off-farm job. The judges were impressed with her ability to break down barriers by communicating at all levels, making her an influential force in the agri-political space.”