Woman takes Board Room Meeting| Women on the NZX | Professionelle

By Sarah WIlshaw-Sparkes

In a recent article to celebrate International Women’s Day, Professionelle Trustee Fiona Fenwick reported from a forum on women’s labour force participation. This companion piece on women on NZX boards, by Professionelle co-founder Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes, is to celebrate Professionelle’s eighth anniversary on March 12th.

A bit of history first

Eight years ago, when Galia and I launched Professionelle in March 2007, only 8% of NZX 100 directorships were held by women. We got busy, researching the business case for women on boards (and, indeed, on senior leadership teams) and working to bring it to public attention.  Despite the arrival of tough global financial times, the topic of “Women at the Top” remained surprisingly current here, helped by debate over whether the departure of two high profile women – Theresa Gattung as Telecom CEO in June 2007 and Helen Clark as Prime Minister in November 2008 – meant the end of a golden era of female leadership.

Events since have shown what Galia and I strongly suspected at the time: the layer of women at the top was gossamer thin and New Zealand was far from “home and hosed” on the issue of women in leadership.  In the private sector, women coming through into the kind of senior management roles that attract the attention of those filling NZX Board seats were in a career pipeline that dripped, rather than flowed. Women’s participation in NZ leadership roles, measured every two years by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) across a variety of sectors, also stuttered along, generally improving by barely one percentage point a year.

Until 2012.

2012: the Glory Year for NZX Boards

Several things happened in 2012, signalling an escalation in private sector attention to the issue of women on boards in New Zealand, and, happily, success in shifting the dial.

  1. The percent of directorship on the NZX 100 held by women leapt up from a little over 9% in 2010 to 14.75% in 2012. This, according to the then EEO Commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor, was “partly due to the influence of companies with dual listing on the Australian Stock Exchange.” (Australia’s stats for the ASX 200 that year were 17.3%).
  2. New Zealand’s version of the 30 Percent Club http://30percentclub.org/ launched as the “25 Percent Group”. Formed by a group of influential CEOs and chief executives at private, publicly-listed and multinational companies, its aim was to champion diversity and to achieve a target of 25% women on New Zealand boards overall by 2015.
  3. The NZ Stock Exchange, in December 2012, introduced rule 10.4.5, requiring listed companies to state the number and percent of women on their board and senior teams, and, if the company had a diversity policy, to report on it. Some commentators, including the NZ Shareholders Association, were disappointed the ruling did not go as far as the ASX’s version, to require all companies to have a diversity policy and to report on it.
  4. The Institute of Directors launched its Mentoring for Diversity programme that took women as its first focus due to the “obvious imbalance” of gender on boards.
  5. Here at Professionelle, Galia developed and successfully launched Professionelle’s unique, and very well-received ‘Power Coaching Women onto Boards’ series. Over 250 women have been through the event which is designed to give aspiring women directors both a dose of reality of the governance life from experienced directors, and a chance to practise their board ‘elevator pitch’ for immediate feedback.

Stocktake – where are we now?

After the hiss and roar of 2012, we’d hope and expect things to be getting better and better for women on NZ’s top boards.  Here’s what the data says (note – the HRC data is for the NZX 100, while the NZX data is on ~110 listed companies that have reported their diversity numbers):
Women on NZX Boards
Hmm. Granted the data sets are not identical, but that doesn’t look like a lot of progress.

Judy McGregor, writing last December in the Women’s Studies Journal (WSJ) gives us, bless her, one more data point. Using the HRC methodology, she once more compiled and verified women’s participation in the boardrooms of the NZX 100 and found the 2013 percentage stagnant at the 2012 level of 14.75%.

Indeed, not a lot of progress.

Dire dearth of data

In the exhibit above you’ll have spotted that the HRC line stops in 2012. The HRC has ceased to publish its Census of Women’s Participation. It seems to have been a victim of its own usefulness, with its length growing fourfold between 2004 and 2012 as women’s groups and sector organisations saw its potential as a benchmarking tool. The cost of compilation seems, alas, to have grown too high and no other organisation has stepped forward to plug the gap.

The loss of this highly useful, internationally respected and thoroughly verified document is a significant one. Where do we turn now for a consistent time series of data on New Zealand women to inform policy makers on progress, and to keep the issue front of mind? Where do international researchers go when they seek to include New Zealand in global comparisons?

In its place, solely on the question of women on NZX boards and NZX senior leadership teams, we can turn to the NZX gender diversity reporting. In time, this source will give us a trend based on its consistently measured data set, but it will be another year or three until we see the kind of clear picture we had from the HRC census. And, in my opinion, the NZX does the cause of women on major boards no favours by the dry, nothing-but-the-facts-ma’am style of its reporting. Take a look for yourselves. Is the NZX pleased by the progress? Appalled? Who knows…


What of the 25 Percent Group? I hoped that they, with their corporate resources and personal commitment to the cause, might be finding a way to track women’s progress in governance in New Zealand. I visited their website but found nobody home. Sigh.

By contrast, it’s good to report that the IoD continues with its mentoring programme, which is now entering its fourth year and widening its definition of diversity beyond gender. Like us, it, too, may be frustrated that its continued efforts for gender diversity have not yet borne much fruit.

International comparisons

Perhaps the shine has come off since 2012, but New Zealand might still be doing well against other OECD countries. Using data from Catalyst’s 2014 census (as at October 2014)  and adding in NZ’s 2013 performance identified by McGregor in WSJ we find:

Women directors OECD 2014_500x390

No, we are not outperforming those we often look to as our peers.

Stock and flow

In Australia, the ACSI reported last month that women are now 30% of new appointees to ASX boards.  That made me think. Instead of focusing on the stock of women on New Zealand boards (i.e. a snapshot of their numbers at a moment in time) I wondered about the flow (the net number of women being added to our Boards every year).

What share of NZX 100 Board appointments each year needs to be won by women in order to meet desirable targets in bearable timeframes?

I’ve had to make an important assumption about the average length of term of an NZX director because the longer the term, the fewer new appointments in any year. Based on the wisdom of John Loughlin and Rebecca Thomas, two highly experienced directors we are fortunate to have as Professionelle Trustees, I’ve taken this number to be in the range of 6 to 8 years. Also, I’m assuming women directors will churn at the same rate as men.


Given the apparent stall in the rate of gain in the last three years, the results are dismaying.
Using the shorter, more optimistic, 6 year term, and aiming for the oft quoted “critical mass” of 30% women, we would need:

  • 106% of new appointments to reach it by the end of 2015 (impossible)
  • 50% of new appointments to reach it by the start of 2018
  • 33% of new appointments to reach it by the start of 2024
  • 25% of new appointments to, of course, never reach it

And if we go quite mad, using the longer 8 year term and aiming for the 40% Norway achieved through quotas, we would need:

  • 50% of new appointments to not-quite-reach it by late 2023
  • 75% of new appointments to reach it by the start of 2018
  • 100% of new appointments to reach it by the middle of 2016 i.e. next year.

Is anyone – headhunters or Board Chairs, 25 PerCenters, NZX or others – thinking in terms of these numbers? Are they envisaging half of their new appointments being women for the next 3-5 years? I’m sure they aren’t.

And till they do, and till we once again have good tracking data, Professionelle will likely be celebrating its twenty-first anniversary in 2028 and reporting on New Zealand still not having reached even 25% of women on the boards of the NZX 100.

It’s enough to give you a womanly fit of the vapours.

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