Last updated 05:00, June 3 2016
Five women and three men – a stock photograph’s interpretation of a modern board meeting. The reality is more like one …
OPINION: Things can be better relatively speaking, but still not right in absolute terms. So it is with equality for women in the New Zealand workforce.
Compared with the situation across the Tasman and in Britain and the United States, New Zealand has much higher levels of gender equality in the workplace. Neither is the gender pay gap in some sectors as large as in many places overseas.
What remains unacceptable is the continuing lack of women at chief executive level and around the board tables of our private and listed companies.
TVNZ and Mighty River Power chairwoman Joan Withers has been a staunch advocate for encouraging and propelling more woman into directorships. However, she, like many others, will be disappointed that women still only account for about 15 per cent of board members of companies listed in the NZSX top 100. She is a member of the 25 Percent Group, which aims to increase female board membership to that level in the next few years.
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Fairfax New Zealand, was last year the supreme winner of the Westpac-Fairfax Media Women of Influence awards for her efforts to champion board diversity and close the gender gap in business. This year’s 2016 Women of Influence programme, launched this week, includes for the first time a Kate Sheppard lecture in recognition of the woman whose push for universal suffrage for New Zealand bore fruit in 1893.
While the level of female board membership of companies leaves a great deal to be desired, the picture is rosier in the state sector. With the strong support of shareholding ministers – whom Withers believes have not received the credit they should – the participation rate of women on state boards and committees reached 43.4 per cent at the end of last year, up from 41.7 per cent the previous year.
In March, a PwC report concluded that New Zealand’s economy could grow by about $16 billion if it increased female employment rate to that of Sweden’s. New Zealand came in fourth place on PwC’s Women in Work index, with a score of 71.7, behind Iceland (73.6), Norway (72.7) and Sweden (72.5). Australia was in 20th place.
The gender pay gap in that report showed the median male wage here was 5.6 per cent higher than the female wage, compared to a 17 per cent difference in the US and 18 per cent in Britain.
There are glimmers of hope but no room for complacency. A 2012 Human Rights Commission study showed that New Zealand women accounted for less than 20 per cent of those in top legal partnerships, less than a quarter of senior academics and fewer than 30 per cent of judges.
Things may be changing slowly for the better, but slowly is not good enough. There is plenty still to do.