Magazine article New Zealand Management

Cover Story: Lesley Whyte - Championing Women on Boards; New Zealand's First Women on Board's Gender Diversity Summit, Held in Auckland This Month, Effectively Also Marked the End of the First Year's Reign of the Pressure Group's Co-Founder and Chief Executive Lesley Whyte. She Talked to Reg Birchfield about WOBNZ, Why She Felt Compelled to Establish It and Where It Goes from Here

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Cover Story: Lesley Whyte - Championing Women on Boards; New Zealand's First Women on Board's Gender Diversity Summit, Held in Auckland This Month, Effectively Also Marked the End of the First Year's Reign of the Pressure Group's Co-Founder and Chief Executive Lesley Whyte. She Talked to Reg Birchfield about WOBNZ, Why She Felt Compelled to Establish It and Where It Goes from Here

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

Why set up Women on Boards?

I was doing an MBA through Massey University. I wanted to become a director and was elected to Massey University Council. This kick-started my governance career. My corporate services background in risk management and management committee membership of the NZ Society of Risk Management turned out to be valuable boardroom tools.

How did you get started?

WOBNZ was co-founded by Dr Rosanne Hawarden, who is a director of Computer Support Enzed, and me. We wanted to provide "tools and empowerment" to women to help them achieve their governance goals through education -- formal or informal.

I became CEO and Rosanne took over as chair. It was my job to set up the organisation, develop funding and partnership programmes and talk to potential supporters. Our founding rationale was based on the fact that no one organisation existed to assist women to get into governance. Women interested in governance had nowhere to go to find out what they needed to do to achieve their goal.

Equally, there was no one to tell them that being on a board indeed wasn't for them. No organisation really provided training or networking tailored to women. Training tended to be offered during the week, lasted a full day and was expensive. Networking events were over breakfast, which is usually the busiest time of the day for a family.

So, we launched the concept in November 2011 and gave ourselves 12 months to test the market.

What did you want to accomplish?

We set out to promote the idea of having more women in both senior executive and governance roles. We also wanted to create affordable training programmes for women offered at times that wouldn't dramatically impact on their work or study.

We wanted a national organisation that had affordable membership fees making it accessible to all women and free networking events that were held at times which suited those who studied or juggled work and home commitments.

And finally, we wanted it to become a "one-stop-shop" for women to talk about their governance career goals and what they needed to do in order to achieve these goals. We also wanted to encourage existing women directors who wanted to take on additional governance roles to be part of the organisation and become aspirational role models.

And we wanted men to participate in our organisation through membership and partnerships.

Are you succeeding?

We have achieved what we set out to accomplish in the first 12 months.

WOBNZ is now an incorporated society and established as an advocacy group. It uses research to support its promotion of increased representation of women on boards; to identify the benefits boards gain from the diversity and better gender balance.

We have recently established a partnership with research company Colmar Brunton through its CEO Jacqueline Ireland.

We focus on bringing through the next generation of board-ready women by developing their existing leadership skills. We use social media forums as our communication pipeline. Traditional letter correspondence is not part of our communication regime.

Women network differently from men. Many of our members balance working full time with running or managing the house and family. Our branch networking events are at times which better fit with their diaries. …

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