Let’s kick-start progress on board diversity

The good news?

Commitment to diversity is at an all-time high. We know that companies with ethnically and gender-diverse workforces and boards perform better; diversity is good for business.

The bad news?

Figures released by the NZX show the percentage of women directors on listed company boards increased from 19.7 per cent to 22 per cent in 2018 – just four more women than in 2017. But there are still 27 New Zealand listed companies or 18 per cent with no women on their boards and the country is lagging far behind other developed nations.

The reasons behind this paradox are many and complex. But one thing is clear. This is the time for men and women to kick-start progress on board diversity in New Zealand, whether you’re on a board or considering joining one. How do we do this? Through three tangible actions – good preparation, identifying your skills, and having a support crew.


1. Be Prepared


Joining a Board

Heard the statistic that women will only apply for a job if they meet 100 percent of the requirements? Men, it is said, will apply knowing they have 60 percent of the skills. The key to becoming a board member is to apply.

Remember, you don’t need to go it alone. Talk to others about their experience of applying for board positions and ask for help when you need it.

For more tips on preparing for a boardroom position, check out this article from Women on Boards.

Contributing to a Board

If you are committed to board diversity, there are several ways you can prepare your company and fellow board members. Making a compelling business case for diversity and getting the whole board to commit to it is a crucial first step. Then set down some ways you will demonstrate your commitment. For example, this could include using blind CVs and re-starting the recruitment process if you don’t get at least one woman on your shortlist.

Another step you can take is to consider the pipeline in your own business. Are women being supported to the top or are they leaving early? If you have a ‘leaking pipeline’, consider whether you are providing mentoring and training opportunities for high potential females. Look at whether leaders are held accountable for developing female leaders and whether the organisation has invested in unconscious bias training.


2. Identify Skills


Joining a Board  

Identify the skills you already have that you can offer a company. Many boards now publish a skills matrix, showing their priority skills and attributes. When considering where you can make the biggest difference, check whether each company discloses the skills it needs more of. Taking the time to review your own skills will also help you prepare your pitch.

Contributing to a Board

Make sure you are recruiting the skills the board lacks, not the roles you think you need. Take the emphasis away from traditional expectations around experience and onto skills and capability. In doing this you highlight where you can improve the company’s performance through more diverse governance. Go one step further by using a diversity matrix, to ensure a balanced board with a range of thinking, experience and backgrounds.


3. Get support


Joining a Board

Research shows that women who get advice from managers on how to advance are more likely to progress. Don’t fear asking for help. If you need the confidence and skills to step up a level, consider applying for one of Global Women’s programmes. Activate Leaders is designed to lift you from middle management to the next phase of your career, whilst Breakthrough Leaders prepares exceptional women to lead organisations.

Contributing to a Board

Global Women’s Discover section on Board Diversity is a great place to read the latest insights.

The Champions for Change site is another excellent resource, created by New Zealand CEOs and Chairs from across the public and private sector, but freely available to anyone interested in diversity and inclusiveness in business.


New Zealanders are committed to diversity, but good intentions without action aren’t moving the dial. It is time to take tangible steps to reduce bias and ensure fairness, which will benefit everyone. As the Women in the Workplace study succinctly puts it, “When the most talented people can rise to the top, regardless of what they look like and where they’re from, we all end up winning.”