Time to act, says gender diversity Roundtable

As part of our commitment to encouraging, inspiring and driving increased diversity and inclusion in New Zealand’s workplaces, the first in a series of Global Women Roundtables kicked off in Auckland this week with a simple message on increasing gender diversity on Boards: “Just do it.”

Eight prominent business leaders took part in the Roundtable: PwC NZ Chair Michele Embling, Chorus Chair Dr Patrick Strange, incoming SkyCity Chair Rob Campbell, incoming Spark Chair Justine Smyth, NZX Head of Policy and Legal Hamish Macdonald, Aspire Search Managing Director Scott Duncan and Global Women CEO Miranda Burdon. The event was facilitated by well-known journalist Rachel Smalley.

Where is the barrier?

The Roundtable participants concluded that there was absolutely nothing stopping companies from appointing women to their Boards – and many reasons why it was a smart thing to do.

You can watch some of the participants share their views here.

Gender diversity on Boards is improving but at a glacial pace: the number of Top 100 companies with female directors has only risen from 12% to just under 18% in the last five years.  And 40 NZX companies still have no women on their Boards.

Lead from the top

The Roundtable felt there was goodwill out there for greater gender diversity on Boards but little action. Business leaders need to take a stand to make it happen. The Board is the easiest place in the company to make a change, it just takes strong leadership. Our biggest companies are demonstrating that it is possible by making conscious decisions to have diversity around the table.

There are no compelling reasons for business leaders not to act. The talented and capable women to take up Board positions are out there. Plenty of them. And over-whelming evidence tells us a diverse Board makes for better business decisions by drawing on a wider talent pool and bringing the different perspectives provided by women. Boards used to be the domain of businessmen with a strongly financial background and skillset, close to (or in) their retirement who had stepped down from a fulltime high-level executive role. But the business world has changed and the norm is for directors to be

  • younger,
  • still highly active in business,
  • have a wide range of skills,
  • able to understand the marketplace
  • and understand the impact of digital communications and technology.

Improving gender diversity on Boards needs to be on every company’s agenda – and not just its HR agenda. It has to be part of business strategy – a development that will strengthen the company and make it more successful. Leaders need to lead on this, stand up and make a difference – and be accountable for progress in improving the gender balance at the top level.

There was a strong feeling that the Boards with no female representation should be ‘named and shamed’ for “letting the side down”. Chairs who have successfully created diverse boards were willing to “have the right conversation, with the right people, in the right way” to help those who were struggling to appoint women.

Use your power

Shareholders respond to the need for diversity too. They want the best set of minds around the Board table they can get, to improve governance and business outcomes. Their allies in this are increasingly those managed funds around the world who – like the New Zealand-based Simplicity Fund – are refusing to invest in companies that don’t have strong gender diversity at the top level.

A role for us all

But while leaders lead on gender diversity and shareholders agitate for it, those in the middle can also take action. Women in senior roles can raise the level of the conversation about gender diversity on Boards, provide role models and push for best practice programmes in their organisations to identify, develop, train and recruit female Board members. Women interested in a Board role themselves can similarly up the ante by pressing for gender diversity action within their organisations, and seeking guidance, mentoring and professional support to develop the skillset required of a director.

There are plenty of people – male and female – in business in New Zealand who will respond to that outreach. Global Women and the Champions for Change have publicly pledged their commitment to improve gender diversity in business, and the calls for action will grow as diversity themes are explored at further Roundtable events planned over the next 12 months.

These sessions are intended to raise awareness of the issues and explore the solutions. But the action can – and must – happen now. We all have a part to play in making it happen.

Let’s do this, as a prominent recent female appointment to the top role in a major organisation in this country – who may very soon have the top job in the land – is now telling Kiwis.