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Women's numbers on NZX boards falls short

QUESTIONS NEEDED: "I cannot believe there are not women who would absolutely be adding to the wisdom of that board," said Joan Withers.

Business heavyweight Joan Withers is "disappointed" by the lack of women around company board tables, and says chairmen need to face some hard questions.

Every company listed on the NZX's main platform is required to include a gender breakdown of their directors and officers in their annual reports.

Figures for the 2014 calendar year, released this morning, show only 14 per cent of directors were women, up slightly from 12 per cent in 2013.

CHANGE NEEDED: Businesses already knew the benefits of keeping women in the workforce, but often struggled on the execution.

Numerous organisations and programmes have tried to address the imbalance in recent years, most notably the 25 Percent Group.

However, the glacial progress on improving gender diversity has fallen well short of the group's goal of having women represent one in four board members in 2015.

Twelve prominent business leaders including Withers, ASB boss Barbara Chapman and NZX chairman Andrew Harmos banded together in 2012 to encourage their peers to take action.


Convenor Andrew Barclay, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs New Zealand, did not return a request for comment.

Withers, who is also involved with Global Women and currently chairs Mighty River Power, said the progress was "slightly heartening".

However, she said it was disappointing that some companies still had no female directors whatsoever.

"Somebody needs to be asking questions of the chairmen of these companies, as to why they didn't see their way clear to finding a qualified woman.

"I cannot believe there are not women who would absolutely be adding to the wisdom of that board."

Withers said she had previously taken heart from a wave of new listed companies with strong female representation, such as the power companies partially privatised in recent years.

"Crown boards particularly have been really good in getting the percentage of women sitting around the board table up," she said.

However, an analysis of the latest dozen companies to list on the main board shows they have regressed to women making up just 11 per cent of board members.

Withers said she was "totally opposed" to quotas, which were demeaning to women selected on that basis, but more pressure needed to be applied.

Research has repeatedly shown that companies with greater leadership diversity perform better on several measures.

Wither said the investment community should be asking questions as to whether company boards were properly configured.

Equal Employment Opportunities Trust chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie said any progress in gender diversity at board level was good.

"As long as it's not going backwards, it's positive," she said.

However, Cassidy-Mackenzie said the progress would remain minimal until there was a focus on developing the talent pipeline of women coming up through the ranks.

"To be honest it really just feels like we're just moving the deckchairs," she said. "We've only got so many Joan Withers."

Cassidy-Mackenzie said businesses already knew the benefits of keeping women leaders in the workforce, but often struggled on the execution.

She said only a "very small minority" were still trapped in the old boys' club mentality, with industries such as manufacturing making huge changes even in the last three years.




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