Narrowing down the 50 finalists for the inaugural Women of Influence awards was never going to be an easy task.
But the award’s judges say they were surprised just how difficult it was.
Sustainable fashion pioneer Peri Drysdale said the awards brought a lot of women out of the woodwork, all with impressive credentials.
”They were all women who had stepped above the parapet but they came from all walks and were contributing in a huge variety of ways. They were in different occupations, different roles, different nationalities.”
The Women of Influence awards were established by Fairfax Media and Westpac to recognise the achievements being made by women across society and were first run in Australia last year.
Nominations were taken in five categories: board/ management, innovation/science, community service/social enterprise, business/entrepreneurs and local/regional community.
A sixth award for an emerging female leader under the age of 30 was added to recognise the next generation of women.
Judges said there were a large number of entries and the calibre was high.
”There were a large number of women that I knew of, but also a significant number of women I didn’t know around the country, particularly working in the science area and in rural communities,” said former Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast.
”It was really humbling that so much is being done by women in different aspects of New Zealand life.”
In Wellington, fresh fish entrepreneur Rachel Taulelei of Yellow Brick Road got the call about making the finals while she was elbow-deep in oysters .
The nomination process had been quite robust but she thought it was ”brilliant” that she made the final 10 in the business/entrepreneur category, and it encouraged her to do more.
”When I do things, I like to excel at them. Life is busy, if you’re going something then really try to be the best at it.”
The judges looked for several X-factors from the finalists including their personal, academic, professional or community achievements, and evidence of their influence beyond their direct role.
They were asked to judge how nominees had influenced the social and economic advancement of women, and their contribution to society through collaboration or mentoring.
Drysdale – founder of Christchurch’s Untouched World fashion label – said she was particularly struck by the difficulty of judging celebrities against unsung heroines who had touched many lives.
”For some people, the sheer brilliance of what they’ve achieved….is enough in itself to be really inspiring. Whereas somebody else might have spent more time actively setting up projects and ways to help women to make their way forward.”
Higher profile names among the 50 include international social researcher Marilyn Waring and top scientist Professor Margaret Brimble (innovation/science) and Federated Farmers’ first female national board member Jeanette Maxwell (board and management).
New names include Wellington’s Silvia Zuur, who said making the finals of the community service/social enterprise award was a bit ”daunting” but she was happy for her work to be recognised.
”I feel celebration is something is sorely lacking in the community”.
Social change is something Zuur is heavily steeped in. When she did her OE, it included work with a Swedish youth initiative and street gangs in Los Angeles.
Back in New Zealand, her latest projects have been two social networks – Enspiral, a collective for socially-minded entrepreneurs, and Chalkle, a platform for informal learning.
Chalkle now has nearly 2000 members in Wellington and the Horowhenua and many classes are free.
”We’ve had classes in everything from accounting in Deloitte’s boardroom through to worm farming up at the community gardens.”
Awards have been quick to follow. Zuur and Chalkle co-founder Linc Gasking were nominated for the Wellingtonian of the Year awards last year.
Now the finalists have been found, the Women of Influence judges are looking for public input.
The winner of the emerging leader category will be judged by a secondary panel and the public will get a 20 per cent say in the final decision.
Votes can be placed by visiting www.stuff.co.nz/woinz.
The full list of winners will be announced at a gala dinner on October 23.
Women of Influence 2013 finalists
Board & Management
Jo Kelly-Moore (Dean)
Margaret Brimble (Prof)
Michelle Dickinson (Dr)
Jessie Jacobsen (Dr)
Marlena Kruger (Prof)
Emma Parry (Dr)
Jacqueline Rowarth (Prof)
Marilyn Waring (Prof)
– © Fairfax NZ News