Where are the highly paid women?

From left, Joan Withers, Norah Barlow and Di Humphries.

By Holly Ryan

One of the main trends coming through from this year’s pay survey is the lack of women in the list of top-paid chief executives, with just one female representative, Norah Barlow, who has since resigned. So where are all the women?

The lack of female chief executives is not a new trend, with one or two females consistently in the pay survey since 2005. These figures also reflect a global trend where women are missing in top-tier roles.

Former Fairfax Media chief executive Joan Withers, now Mighty River Power chairwoman, said New Zealand had not taken advantage of the period a few years ago when females were better represented, a trend that she said had since lapsed slightly.

“A few years ago, maybe we were a bit complacent in that we did have a number of high-profile female CEOs in high-profile roles, back in the Theresa Gattung days, Ann Sherry and so forth.

“But it does seem to have regressed,” Withers said. “I am confident that there are a number of women coming through senior executive ranks across the country but yes, at the moment women are under-represented at a chief executive level.”

A Credit Suisse research report, The CS 3000: Women in senior management, released this month, found that global female representation in chief executive and director roles was 12.9 per cent, but this varied considerably between sectors and countries.

Mighty River Power chairwoman Joan Withers.

The first NZX Gender Diversity Annual Statistics report released in March this year showed that male directors outnumbered females by 88 per cent to 12 per cent across the 109 participating companies.

According to the Credit Suisse report, the percentage of women on boards in New Zealand was 19.6 per cent in 2011, rising to 21.3 per cent in 2012, but this figure had since come down to 19.6 per cent in 2013.

These figures were higher than the average global tallies, which were led by Norway with 39.7 per cent. However, leaders in the sector say these figures are still not high enough, and don’t seem to be translating.

Diane Foreman, the chief executive of New Zealand Natural, said things were changing but more needed to be done at an education level to encourage women to push for higher-ranked jobs.

“Things are definitely changing, but they’re moving at a glacial pace,” Foreman said. “There needs to be a shift in our education system, because at the moment I think the role of a CEO is still viewed as a male job, and women maybe don’t think that they can have it all – the job and the family.”

Foreman said things had changed at the tertiary level with a much more equal number of male and female business graduates, but she added that this had not translated into more women in top positions.

Norah Barlow, former chief executive of Summerset Group, was this year’s sole female representative.

Barbara Chapman of ASB Bank would probably have made the list, but Australia’s Commonwealth Bank, which owns ASB, does not disclose Chapman’s remuneration in its annual reports.

An ASB spokesman said ASX listing rules did not require Commonwealth Bank to disclose her pay.

Barlow, who according to Summerset Group’s annual report was paid $689,998 last year, said she felt there was a gap in female roles in middle management resulting in a follow-on in top roles.

Di Humphries is likely to be one of the top-paid female CEOs for 2014.

“I don’t think there’s enough emphasis on middle management going forward,” Barlow said.

“I think there’s the issue of whether women are feeling like the perceived masculine demands of being a CEO are right for them but below that level there’s not that many women in high management positions who could then be promoted to CEO.”

The continued gap between men and women in positions of power in companies has prompted discussions on whether to introduce a quota system to try to get more women into business roles.

Several businesses such as Xero already boast a relatively even male-to-female ratio, and Withers said the growing trend for companies to report on staff diversity in their annual reports was becoming a key factor in firms looking to be more diverse.

“I think more emphasis on diversity generally and particularly for listed companies means that boards are making sure that they are able to demonstrate those metrics in the annual report each year, and that in itself drives a momentum through the organisation to make sure there is an appropriate focus,” Withers said.

Another suggestion for the gap was that women did not have the role models of successful female chief executives to aspire to, something Withers said also needed to change, with more profile given to successful female chief executives, and in particular to those who had a well-rounded career and family life.

“We definitely need to give more profile to successful CEOs to be role models and great leaders to aspire to,” Withers said.

“I think too many people think that you can’t have it all, the career and the family and partner, but you can.”

Read Part 1: NZ’s top pay packet revealed: $4.1m

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