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Not just a women's issue: Global Women's 1 Day for Change (Video)

Fairfax Media NZ and Global Women partner up to raise awareness about diversity in the workplace and more women in business leadership.

A group of New Zealand's most influential women leaders are gearing up to host a special event aimed at changing the make-up of Kiwi businesses.

The Global Women organisation is hosting the 1 Day for Change conference on September 19 at the Viaduct Events Centre in Auckland – Suffrage Day.

Around 240 of the country's senior women leaders are members of Global Women, who collaborate to promote diverse, flexible and inclusive workplaces to businesses as a successful strategy for growth.

The event will bring together the country's biggest businesses to push for greater diversity. It will offer a platform for businesses to talk and share how they have made diversity a priority and suggest ways others can follow suit.

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Global Women chief executive Miranda Burdon said most senior business people recognised that more inclusive workplaces were fundamentally good for society.

Miranda Burdon, chief executive of Global Women, says change is easier than people think.

"This isn't a 'women's issue', it's very much about New Zealand's prosperity," Burdon said. 

"It makes good business sense. That's the reason people commit to making a change."

She said while businesses recognised the benefits of diversity, many struggled to take action to make the change.

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"New Zealand has all the foundations to be leaders in this space and to benefit economically and socially from more diverse and gender equal leadership, but the way we have traditionally operated won't allow us to keep up with today's pace of change," Burdon said. 

Fairfax Media NZ, publisher of Stuff.co.nz, the Sunday Star-Times, The Dominion Post and The Press, is the event's media partner. Executive editor at Fairfax Media Sinead Boucher said it was encouraging to see the conversation about women in leadership changing from the why to the how. 

Boucher said September would be a month of celebration for diversity, with the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards also taking place in partnership with Westpac.

Boucher says September willd be a month of celebration for diversity, with the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards also taking place in partnership with Westpac.

"At Fairfax Media, we are conscious of the role we can play in either reinforcing or breaking down old stereotypes, and I see it as our responsibility to help with the latter," Boucher said.

Despite women comprising more than 45 per cent of board directors in the public sector, change in the private sector has been slow to follow.

Burdon said while women were told to step up and participate, it would be unreasonable to expect this in an environment that was not open to it. 

"You can't be what you can't see," Burdon said.

There is only one female chief executive heading a publicly listed company on the New Zealand stock exchange.

Deputy Prime Minister and Women's Minister Paula Bennett echoed Burdon's thoughts. She said unconscious bias had been an influential factor in the slow pace of diversity inclusion within businesses.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said women should not be facing questions about whether or not they want to have babies.

"Like attracts like. In the past we've had male leaders and managers on boards who are more likely to employ people that are like themselves," Bennett said.

"I don't believe there is any chief executive or chair of a board that should accept a short list, for a senior role, that does not at least have one woman's name on it," Bennett said.

Women make up nearly 60 per cent of all Bachelor's degree graduates, yet they are under represented in leadership roles. 

A slow transition into embracing employee flexibility had also stunted diversity in workplaces, Burdon said.

Recently, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was questioned about whether she would take maternity leave, were she to become prime minister.

Ardern said: "I accept that I opened myself up to that question. But for others, they should not be facing such questions in the workplace in 2017."

Burdon said the dialogue in the media further stressed the inhibitions that surrounded hiring a woman.

Participation from women in the workforce could add US$10 billion (NZ$14b) to the New Zealand economy.

Deputy Prime Minister and Women's Minister Paula Bennett: "I don't believe there is any chief executive or chair of a board that should accept a short list, for a senior role, that does not at least have one woman's name on it".

Burdon said providing flexibility, not just for women but for anyone who needed it, could expose a business to a greater pool of talent.

A study found employers with more flexible workplaces had 32 per cent more employee participation. 

Ardern said it was concerning that women were over represented in low wage sectors.

"Having a diverse workplace is good for business. A successful workplace reflects New Zealand's society, that has a voice for every member of our community and if this is reflected in their senior management teams they're going to be all the better for it," she said.

Companies with greater ethnic diversity were 35 per cent more likely to financially outperform their industry.

The statistics were all there and more businesses were noticing the benefits, but many did not know how, Burdon said.

"Change is easier than people think, but it requires a conscious choice and it won't happen without effort."

Registrations for Global Women's 1 Day for Change summit on 19 September are now open, and places are filling fast. Find out more, view the speakers and buy your ticket at http://globalwomen.org.nz/1dfcnz

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