Members Spotlight | Gender-Smart Influence

With International Women’s Day making headlines around the world, where celebrating women from all walks of life is at the forefront – we take a deeper look at our collective achievements, challenges and continue to advocate gender equality for the future of women.

Joining us this month are Angela Meyer and Tory Whanau, who share their journey and insights into gender-smart influence.

Prepare to be inspired as you explore into their individual stories!

Angela Meyer, Gender Equity Lead at Mercer, Co-founder of Gender Justice Collective and Project Gender

Angela Meyer’s outstanding career spans diverse arenas, all with a common clarion call of the importance of gender equality.  She is the Gender Equity Lead at Mercer and co-founded Gender Justice Collective and Project Gender. From 2016 – 2020 she was the co- founder and the director of Double Denim.

I asked Ange who were the influencers that led her to her roles today.

“I was born in Palmerston North into a fantastic family, the eldest of four daughters. We were all very close to my amazing father and incredible mother.  Social justice was a big component of my growing up as we were part of a multicultural community that spanned refugees to university students. My father was a champion of the underdog and instilled it into all his children.  Mum was a feminist and an activist in her own way. She protested against the Springbok tour of 1981, and the Rainbow Warrior. I didn’t know feminist was a dirty word!  Growing up in a small town, then going on to study theatre, fashioned my desire to help change narratives and think about other ways of being.”

You have achieved prominent status in the global gender-equality space for many years.  What does Gender-Smart mean to you?

“I think of it as Gender Intelligence.

International studies show that women count for 80% of all purchasing decisions. We are responsible for $28 trillion out of a $33 trillion economy. We are the market!  But, unlike other comparable countries, New Zealand doesn’t measure the economic value of women.  This is despite the incredible work of Global Woman member, Dame Marilyn Waring – Counting for Nothing – which  isolates the gender bias that exists in the current system of calculating national wealth.

At Double Denim, we wanted to encourage businesses to do better by women. We commissioned research to analyse the economic and emotional lives of women in New Zealand. We discovered that 87% of NZ women said that they feel unsafe.  That is a crisis! “

After Double Denim closed, I turned my sights toward applying an intersectional feminist lens on policy, so in the lead up to the 2020 general election, so I co-founded the Gender Justice Collective (GJC) a group of individuals, businesses and organisations all committed to gender equity.

We undertook a nationwide survey asking women, wahine, trans, intersex and non-binary people what they needed and wanted from their elected representatives and worked with Professor Jennifer Curtin from the Public Policy Institute to create a scorecard to see how committed politicians were to gender equity. It was a world first.

The Greens came out on top. Our survey results also showed that health was a key area of concern.  The GJC led the successful advocacy for the formation of a National Women’s Health Strategy.  All the work, including two parliamentary submissions – was pro bono!  So much work in the gender equity space – advocating, volunteering and more –  is off the backs of unpaid women’s labour.  And we don’t talk about it.

In 2021, I developed ‘Trade Careers’ – a project to get more women into the trades and, ‘The Table – where Kiwi women talk money’ and co-founded Project Gender with Tania Domett and Erin Jackson. I’m currently working part time as the first Gender Equity Consultant in the financial sector at Mercer NZ.”

Across the spectrum of corporate, arts, government, and more, where is equality lacking the most, and how does that deficiency manifest?

“Gosh, that is a big question! I see it manifesting across all sectors. Often it is an unwillingness to measure pay gaps or put women’s voices at the heart of decision making on things that effect them all the way through to sexual harassment and abuse. All of these demonstrate that women’s concerns, aspirations and potential are important.

At Project Gender we work on social change and creating positive impact through insights research, breakthrough campaigns and real-world innovations. Our kaupapa is to centre the voices of those we are looking to support.  One of the initiatives we have worked on is Mako Mama Mangopare – Single Parents Project.  In it we dive deep into what single parents need to thrive in New Zealand. We hope to release this report very soon.

We have also released a New Zealand online Sex and Dating Survey (interestingly the over 50s are dating dangerously!) worked with TNVZ to apply a gender lens to programming and have launched a new Gender in Focus Snapshot series. Our innovation arm is currently developing a range of products and services using our insights. Women provide a huge opportunity for brands, businesses, and our country.”

What more could we be doing in Aotearoa New Zealand to move the dial on equality?

“Frankly, as New Zealanders, we have been resting on our laurels; we gave women the vote in 1893, but we are lacking in progress.  Australia is kicking our asses! The country has provided a survey and consultation for a national gender equality strategy. Imagine that!

New Zealand needs to make a commitment to prioritise gender equity –  with a timeline!  No more hand-wringing. New Zealand women are in an economic and healthcare crisis, and we need to get on and sort it out!”

Are males sufficiently engaged in the process?  If not, what are some solutions.

“In the recently released Mercer Global Talent Trends report, one of the top areas of concern for employers is talent retention and attraction.  One solution to this war on talent is having strong equitable paid parental leave policies. We have to move it away from being just a woman thing; a lot of young men want paid parental leave.   Our national scheme is only used by less than 1% of men.  Why would they take it up when they see women’s results through the same system?  After all, men of quality don’t fear equality.”

Māori and Pasifika wāhine are severely impacted by the pay gap (and in other arenas.)  Is there sufficient progress being made to rectify this?

“These inequities go back to colonisation, systemic discrimination, racism – while I tautoko the work that is being done by many in our communities, we need to go faster and to ensure that this mahi is well resourced. NO more consultation for no pay! It has to be a partnership and the solutions must be led and developed by Māori and Pasifika wāhine.

I believe when we create systems that are going to benefit the most vulnerable, we all benefit.”

Could Global Women play a larger role in gender equality?  If so, how?

 “If we put the needs and wants of New Zealand women at the heart of our work, and we as a collective wrap our support around what they want and advocate for change at the government level, board level, or in our businesses. I think that would be incredible.

Systems need to change. Change the way our businesses are run, our communities operate. We can’t expect women individually to make these big changes.”

Do you have a book recommendation(s) on the current global situation of equality that we could share with GW members?

“The Right to Sex, by Amia Srinivasan, is a series of essays about the politics and ethics of sex in this world animated by the hope of a different world. It’s incredible; it’s sharp, urgent and thrilling!”

And closing thoughts?

“From all our research we know women want joy and connection and fun, and we should hold onto this and embrace it.  Make sure as Global Women that we are having fun together, and in our communities; that we find as much joy and connection as possible.  Every day is International Women’s Day for me!”

Tory Whanau, Mayor of Wellington/Pōneke

Her Worship Tory Whanau, of Pakakohi and Ngāruahine descent, is the 37th Mayor of Pōneke and the first person of Māori lineage to hold this office.  Her rise to the mayoralty is meteoric and after a conversation with this vivacious, dedicated and passionate wāhine Māori it’s not surprising!

You have an illustrious career, completing the current circle by becoming Mayor of Pōneke. Who were your early influencers?

“I was born in Porirua and my family moved to Pātea when I was eight.  My grandparents were my early influencers. My grandmother worked three jobs to support her family who she always put first.  I drew my work ethics from her. My grandfather was a theatre actor, and an activist.  He was incredibly energetic and cared deeply about his iwi.  I didn’t know what politics were, but my grandfather gave me my first taste. When I was at boarding school my grandparents sent packages once a month and my korua would include an article about politics so that I could stay abreast of issues.  My grandfather sensed that I would be a future leader.

At Victoria University I dabbled in the arts scene and did some short film producing.  Then I made a foray into the marketing arena where I stayed for seven years, but I was deeply unhappy as it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  However, I found my dream role as Communications Director for the Green Party before being promoted to Chief of Staff and that got me into politics.

I held that role for six years and the vibe was still not quite right, so I announced that I would run for Mayor. People thought I was out of my depth and said that I wouldn’t win.  My koro had passed by this time, but he knew. I talked about him a lot on the campaign trail; his memory gave me my kaha.

The opportunity I have to give back to Wellington makes me very happy and satisfied which feels like destiny.  I hope to be in this role for the next 10 years! I love attending events, and people tell me that they can see I love my job and that I love Wellington.  We need to transform this city, so it can be positive and proud again.”

You are the first wāhine Māori Mayor, with an extensive manifesto for change. Do you get pushback because of your agenda and ideas?  If so, how do you manage these?

“Yes, I have found that because I’m a wāhine Māori there’s a small minority who find the concept of change frightening. They don’t want to see the city changed and want instead to go back to old ways of governance.  I’ve been called an idiot, a fool, irresponsible, that I’m an overweight show pony and because I’m a wāhine Māori ‘how dare I want the best for our future?’ These cruel statements would not be made to men!

When I’m out in the community the comments become hurtful and exhausting however, there’s my positive experience at Wellington’s Fringe Festival when the audience didn’t stop applauding!  Experiences like this cancel out the shitty emails from a minority.  So, I listen, stay calm, and let people know that I hear them.  I was elected on a platform of change, and I have the votes, so we have to move forward!”

What does Gender-Smart mean to you? How will you use your influence to grow equality in Pōneke?

“I approach politics by putting women, and transwomen, at the forefront, because it’s so much harder for us.  Let me share an example of the safe space I want to create for those who want to get into politics, and to help eliminate toxicity for Māori.  During Women’s History Month (March) in 2024, I’ll launch a one-day forum in Wellington where politicians will share their experiences on how we can dismantle this harmful behaviour and become more resilient while we are making important changes.  I want to partner with other organisations (Global Women especially!)  I want people to understand that this malignancy is relevant in all sectors and must be stopped. This is my view of being Gender Smart – by placing our gender first and foremost.”

How will you use your role at the heart of central government to leverage the lives of Māori and Pasifika wāhine who are severely impacted by the pay gap and in other arenas?

“I signed on, and support the Human Relations Commission Campaign, extending to all women and identities. I want to emphasize the importance of closing the pay gap.  I really, truly want to influence legislation representing Māori and Pasifika, so as part of my role I am encouraging Māori and Pasifika women to run for office where they can represent us and stand as leaders.  This is part of my 2024 project that I’m deeply passionate about, because we have to be in there!”

What changes do you envision with your emphasis on the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

“I’m so lucky that the council I’ve inherited had just signed Tākai Here that insures that once a  month we meet with iwi leaders. Our last meeting was amazing! We have two mana whenua voting representatives at our table, and a Māori Ward representative.  It’s co-governance where every decision we make has mana whenua co-design and signoff.  For example, we have a city redesign project underway, and mana whenua has naming rights for buildings, the first call for the land we’re selling and surety that all the paving stones have Māori stories on them. I have so much gratitude and kudos for the Wellington City Council for setting up this mahi tahi. This is the type of agreement that is vitally needed in Parliament!”

What more could we be doing at Global Women to move the dial on equality?

“We need to share our kōrero about change management experiences with Global Women members.  This is why I love forums; they’re all about storytelling and when women share their stories, our hopes and aspirations grow!”

You have surpassed 100 days in office.  What are your biggest challenges and achievements thus far?

“One of my mayoral campaign promises was to unify people. We had an incredibly dysfunctional council last year which led to a loss of trust in Wellington. One of the council  meetings ran until midnight because relationships were so fractured. When I entered office, I focused on the team and getting our councillors to behave!  We sit on a spectrum that requires respect. Consequently, the behaviour has changed;  our recent annual planning meeting ran for two hours instead of 12. People still get grizzly, but we work together.  I’ve been told I have a high level of mana; people are believing it now. “

Tory’s closing comments:

“In this role as Mayor I’ve had Global Women and a couple of other networks come to offer support and that has been a truly wonderful feeling. It has made me feel safe, so I want to highlight the importance of networks when finding new leaders. I fear that the way former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was treated will scare women away from politics.  We’re in a tricky phase and we need to be very proactive in finding these women and let them know that it will be OK.  There’s a coven of great women and I’m delighted to be a part of this!”

Pōneke and indeed Aotearoa New Zealand is fortunate to have Tory Whanau as a rangatira!  Watch this space!


All interviews and stories written by our Editor in Residence, Jenni Prisk (Global Women Member)