Knocking Down Doors

New Zealand Management, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Knocking Down Doors


Do you like John Key's new suit? Have you seen what George Bush has been wearing lately? Thought not. So it's a sad state of affairs when the only letter to the Dominion Post in response to a story on Prime Minister Helen Clark's meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mentions their clothing. For women in top positions are still a rare breed. That's despite some tiresome media perceptions that women hold the top jobs in this country.

The reality, as Minister of Women's Affairs Lianne Dalziel said at a recent Deloitte/NZIM Women in Business Networking Series in Auckland, is a glacial improvement in their prospects.

"The truth is that a small number of high profile women have broken through the glass ceiling but the fact remains that the carpet remains very sticky."

Dalziel draws her evidence from last year's New Zealand Census of Women's Participation which reveals that a paltry seven percent of directors on our top 100 listed companies are women. That's just two percent more than two years before.

That seven percent means we stack up way behind Norway (22 percent), the United States (13.6 percent) and the United Kingdom (10.5 percent). We're even, for heaven's sake, worse than Australia which manages to ensure 8.6 percent of its top companies' directors are women.

"It's only a marginal difference but I always like to throw that on the table because most New Zealanders don't like to be behind Australia in anything," says Dalziel. "Instinctively, it almost can't be right." And no, she can't put her finger on an easy explanation for that uneasy fact.

Dalziel refuses to buy into notions of conspiracies designed to lock our women out of our boardrooms. Nor does she accept that tokenistic quotas will do the trick in the private sector--although goals to achieve an even split between male and female board members in the government sector by 2010 are concentrating the mind wonderfully.

Instead, she sticks to the slower route of building a business case to prove that diversity is, as one Canadian study puts it, "not just the right thing but the bright thing to do".

Certainly, there is no shortage of studies to bear out her claim that there is a link between better representation of women on boards and stronger financial performance. And in any case, there's a certain lack of logic in thinking that shoulder-tapping among men is the best way to provide the fresh blood needed at the helms of our nation's enterprises.

New initiatives are under way. Besides the Institute of Directors' members-only board appointment service, which matches members with board openings, Dalziel notes three new groups are developing web-based nominations databases that will make women with appropriate skills more readily available to businesses. …

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