Theresa Gattung: Banks lead the way with women-to-leadership ratio

Newly appointed Global Women Chair, Theresa Gattung, shares her thoughts on the world’s most influential companies making a major shift towards diverse boards of directors, and where our nation stands against their strides in diversity.

This comes at a time here in Aotearoa New Zealand, where we’ve noted that more women than men are now at the helm as Chair and CEO of our nation’s biggest banks — many of whom are Global Women Members.

This opinion piece, originally published in Stuff (click HERE to read), looks at where our nation’s boards are now, compared to the rest of the world.

“It’s one thing to appoint a woman to a major company board. It’s another matter to actually put them in charge, as chair or CEO. Or both.”

In the last year, the world has seen a shift towards diverse directors among the most influential companies: S&P 500 boards filled 59 per cent of their new independent director roles with women and minority men, and now there’s at least one female board member in every S&P 500 firm.

There’s evidence that such diversity improves business performance: Harvard’s 2018 study on Venture Capital shows that hiring 10% more women as partners brings in a 1.5 per cent spike in overall fund returns and 9.7 per cent more profitable exits.

Internationally, we see that “gender balance in governance and leadership roles correlates with better decision making, organisational resilience and performance. Inclusive and diverse boards are more likely to be an effective board, better able to understand their customers and stakeholders and benefit from fresh perspectives.”

So how does New Zealand stack up?

We’re near the bottom of the rankings of similarly developed countries for percentage of female corporate directors. Australia, Germany, Norway and France all outperform us in our efforts to increase the women in our boardrooms. Theresa notes that in addition, there’s also a clear lack of visibility in Māori, people with disabilities, ethnic and LGBTIQ+ people.

Spark remains the only major publicly listed board with women at the helm, when chair Justine Smyth led the board to appoint Jolie Hodson CEO in 2019. Spark has had an even gender split on its board for several years.”

1 out of 5 boards on the S&P/NZX 50 have no women whatsoever. We have 29% female directorship across these companies — which falls well below the 40% target set by us here at Global Women and with Champions for Change. The trend is echoed in the public sector: last September, the government announced it had increased women on boards to a record 50 per cent, up from 45.7 per cent in 2017.

“New Zealand sits near the bottom of the rankings of similarly developed countries for percentage of female corporate directors,” Theresa Gattung.

Considering that 80% of daily consumer decisions are made by women, we need to think about how we can better reflect our consumers: “A homogenous board inhibits business growth because as decision-makers, boards should be able to understand and represent their market.” Theresa ads, that regarding board diversity, “We know it is the right way to go because the best companies are already doing it.”

“For decades we’ve been talking about putting more women in charge, but our top companies are still largely governed by Pākehā men. Why? Because our society accepts that it’s OK to be like that. If we didn’t, we would have collectively put in place a whole range of measures to shift it,” Theresa Gattung.