by Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

International Women’s Day is almost upon us again.  If you’ve been with Professionelle for some time, you’ll know that this date usually prompts me to check on the latest stats on New Zealand women’s progress. I dig into the data about how many women are participating at senior levels in a variety of aspects of our society. The final conclusions of my last two articles could be summed up as:

Groundhog Day

This article could easily have been entitled ‘Groundhog Day meets IWD’. Why? Because, keeping it very brief, the numbers are much the same as those we saw last 12 months ago. The latest NZX  gender diversity stats for female directors vs male directors show we have made precisely zero progress in the last year:

  • 2013:        12.4%
  • 2014:        14.4%
  • 2015:        16.8%
  • 2016:        16.8% again   (yes, I checked the numbers).

For women on senior leadership teams, i.e. the pipeline into the board room, the gender mix remains stuck at around the 20% mark for women:

  • 2013:        18.8%
  • 2014:        21.1%
  • 2015:        19.2%
  • 2016:        20.1%

And I’m afraid I can’t tell you how women in other sectors of New Zealand society, like politics and sports, are faring in leadership. That’s because the Human Rights Commission ceased to publish its biannual Census of Women’s Participation in 2012, and since then we have had no consistent data.

But I also can’t face writing another lament. This year I need to be more positive.

Be bold for change

I turned to international resources to find a constructive, upbeat angle. The International Women’s Day website was very helpful. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange. It’s a fair call. Reticence and quiet good works never built a career, and they won’t build gender equity in pay and opportunity either. Indeed, the IWD site reports a World Economic Forum estimate that the world’s gender gap won’t fully close till 2186! At the time of that report’s writing, 2186 meant another 170 years of waiting.

But how can we be bold? A number of the IWD suggestions revolve around making noise. Declaring support, photographing posters about support, sharing the messages on social media. I suppose noise is part of it, but I’m much more interested in ideas of practical actions that make an actual difference in individual women’s lives.

Bold actions

Chances to be bold don’t come around all the time, and the energy to create those chances is precious, too. Here at Professionelle, we’re committed to supporting, connecting and influencing for positive change for working women, but our group of volunteers can only make a couple of really bold moves a year. For example, last year, with Simpson Grierson’s generous support, we ran our first mentoring programme. It connected more experienced women with peer groups of younger women. It’s something we’ve wanted to try for a long time. The signs are it’s a bold move that’s paying dividends for all the women involved, with a mix of empathy, encouragement, advice, fresh insights, connections and resilience.

Galia has written about the power of “believing in someone so they can believe in themselves” and of being surrounded by strong supporters to offset our natural tendency to beat ourselves up over every little mistake. These mentoring groups become cheerleaders for their members – a pretty bold move.

A special place in hell…

You may remember Madeleine Allbright’s famous quote about her belief that there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.

A nice – and manageable! – bold idea on the IWD site is to organise an event with a speaker willing to talk about ‘bold moments’ in her life, when she took important action for her own benefit or for the benefit of other women, or received a gracious benefit from another woman.  I found this lovely example in a story from Huffington Post:

I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt…it was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ‘50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him – and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status – that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman – a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.      – Ella Fitzgerald

Here are a few other ideas of bold ideas for change:

  • challenge men-only panels
  • educate boys about stereotypes and bias
  • create networking opportunities for women in your organisation
  • donate time to women-friendly charities (I had to include that one)!


The little things count towards change, too, though, and they’re easier to manage on a day-to-day basis. I like the idea of micro-actions, as an antidote to micro-inequities (those are the little niggles women face every day and which can add up to making the workplace feel hostile).

Could you take on any of these:

  • amplify a woman’s message in a meeting to help her point be heard
  • talk about networking opportunities you’re aware of, and suggest going along together
  • take a younger woman to a sales meeting or client meeting she might not otherwise get a chance to attend
  • talk confidently about your own achievements to model the behaviour for other women
  • sing the praises of another woman
  • put women’s names forward for stretch assignments and offshore postings
  • send young women a copy of our affordable book Begin with Success, in paperback or on Amazon (yes, I had to include that one, too!)

If you feel a little uncomfortable at the notion of women helping other women, and worry that it might not be quite fair, I’d invite you to consider that men help other men all the time, in a comfortably transactional way, and without the need for a deep personal connection first.

Getting past 1893

I hope these short lists of bold and micro actions help you do something on a practical basis to advance other women in the next 12 months. After all, in New Zealand, we have a lot to live up to in terms of women’s rights. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about (hint: Kate Sheppard), don’t worry. Every news item about IWD down here will be reliving our past glories from 1893.

Wouldn’t it be great to achieve something that big again?




















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