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Why are boards at New Zealand businesses a sausage fest?

Released last night, the fifth edition of Deloitte Global’s Women in the Boardroom: A Global Perspective report explores the efforts of 64 countries, including New Zealand, to promote boardroom gender diversity. The report reveals that women hold just 15 percent of board seats worldwide – only a slight improvement from the 2015 edition of the report.

Deloitte New Zealand Partner Peter Gulliver says that for the first time, the publication includes a region-by-region analysis of the relationship between corporate leadership and diversity, and direct correlation was found between female leadership (CEOs and board chairs) to board seats held by women. “Organisations with women in the top leadership positions have almost double the number of board seats held by women,” he says. “The inverse is true as well, with gender diverse boards more likely to appoint a female CEO and board chair. This illustrates an important trend—as the number of female CEOs and board chairs climbs, it is likely to spur greater board diversity. Yet, the percentage of women securing top leadership roles remains very low, with women holding only four percent of CEO and board chair positions globally,” he says.

The Women in the Boardroom report includes a sample of 18 New Zealand companies. The report found that while New Zealand does above average compared to the global sample (with 28 percent of board seats and 11 percent of board chairs held by women), none of the companies analysed had female CEOs.

Gulliver says that, despite the small sample size, the results for New Zealand are consistent with what is known from other research about the lack of diversity. In April, stats from the NZX revealed that, of all the listed companies on the index, a mere 13 percent had female directors. Even worse, the number is actually down from 2016, when 14 percent of companies had female directors.

“The New Zealand Census of Women on Boards 2017, published last month by AUT professors Judy McGregor and Stevie Davis-Tana, shows that the number of women on the boards of NZX top 100 companies has climbed above 20 percent for the first time, with over 22 percent of board members now women. However, according to AUT, the number of female board chairs and CEOs of the top 100 companies have not changed since 2012, holding steady at seven and three respectively,” he says. “Given the correlation between women leaders and female board representation, these last two statistics, along with the fact that none of the Kiwi companies analysed for Women in the Boardroom have a woman CEO, are particularly concerning. Bridging the gender divide in the workforce is not only a matter of fairness, but also of effective governance and inclusive economic growth.”

Across the Tasman, Australia is blowing the Land of the Long White Cloud out of the water when it comes to women on boards. Women held about 23.4 percent of board seats on ASX 200-listed companies in June 2016 – a nearly three-fold increase from 8.3 percent in 2009.

Speaking to Idealog for International Women’s Day in March, Xero managing director Anna Curzon had this to say about the lack of female business leaders:

It’s shocking to think that, until just a few weeks ago, there wasn’t a single female CEO in the NZX50 (Kate McKenzie started as CEO of Chorus took up her role on February 20).

“It is an indictment and it isn’t good enough. We need to address why this happening and rather than just talk about it, make change. There is more than enough evidence and research available to show that diversity in leadership teams and boards drive better outcomes and performance of the business. In fact, it is negligent if the boards and management of NZX-listed companies do not have a plan to address diversity on their teams.

“In my experience, change is CEO-led. They set examples in the decisions they make every day. Diversity can’t just be a policy written on a document stowed away in a folder somewhere, and dusted off when the next Diversity Awards come around. A focus on diversity needs to filter down through the business from the top down, so that it’s palpable within the culture of the company.

“The most important thing, yet possibly the hardest to address, is everyday unconscious bias in those making decisions within a business. Often people don’t even realise it’s happening, but those that do need to keep on noticing it and confront it. It’s important to remember though, that in most cases there isn’t a direct intent to discriminate. Sometimes being called out on it is enough to wake someone from their unconscious bias; other times, it’s not. But keep on pointing out when diverse thinking is not being respected, because people and businesses cannot continue operating in this way. It’s bad business!

“Another way to promote greater equality is for people in the business to focus on building a pipeline of talent within their team. Once you’ve identified someone with talent, ambition, and promise, build them and train with opportunities to grow beyond their role and into something more senior. The statistics for the number of women in senior executive roles is terrible. We need to build up, support, and encourage people with potential in business to build out that pipeline. Of course, we also need to fight against some of the natural and unconscious biases that occur when recruiters go into the selection process.

“In the end, diversity within a business allows for different perspectives and vigorous decision-making, effective risk management, and higher achievements by, and within, the company.”

Check out an earlier interview with Anna Curzon:

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