Rachel Smalley: Lack of equality in corporate world absurd

Rachel Smalley says the corporate world is full of capable women who aren't getting the opportunity to rise (iStock)

Rachel Smalley says the corporate world is full of capable women who aren’t getting the opportunity to rise (iStock)

Now, we have spoken about this a lot. Diversity in the workplace, but chiefly around the boardroom table.

Of our top NZX companies, some 80% have less than 30% women directors on their boards. Some 39 boards are entirely male. And today, the Institute of Directors is calling on NZX companies to set a target to improve that situation.

Diversity, they say, is critical to maintaining a competitive and vibrant economy. And it is. Of that there is no doubt.

Look at the UK where they put targets in place for the top listed companies on the footsie, and slowly, as those companies achieved the target of 30% of women, they all, without question, recorded an improvement in business performance.

However, here is my issue. I don’t think the issue is diversity. I think the issue is gender equality.

Appointing women as company directors doesn’t achieve diversity. It achieves equality. It achieves gender balance. Women don’t make a situation more diverse. Women bring balance. And so I think it’s too easy to hide behind this term ‘diversity’. It’s an issue of gender equality, plain and simple.

There are those today who will email me or they’ll post on facebook or twitter that I’m wrong and that we should only appoint women to boards on merit. And so what is the insinuation? The insinuation is that we don’t have enough women in the corporate world who are capable of filling these roles.

Well, that’s absurd. In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s bullshit. Plain and simple. I don’t buy it.

Our corporate world is full of smart, savvy, professional women who would greatly enhance any board in any sector. It’s just that the process of appointing people to boards is flawed.

If you’re a CEO or a chairman, don’t palm this issue off to recruitment companies or your hr department. Chances are your hr department will be run by women anyway, so you’re making this a woman’s problem.

And recruitment companies will take the easiest route. Always. They’ll go with the status quo.

So own this yourself. Shoulder the responsibility of bringing about change yourself.

The desire for change is there. I know this because of the CEOs and the Chairmans I have spoken to – all male – they all want to bring about change but while the intention is there, the outcomes aren’t.

So that’s the challenge. Enough hot air. It is unacceptable that 32% of our listed companies have no women directors on their boards.

Yes, change takes time, and change doesn’t come easy – but for the good of our economy, and to provide a pathway for young professional women who are coming through our universities, change has to happen.

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One Response to Rachel Smalley: Lack of equality in corporate world absurd

  1. Pauline Edwards says:

    I have been reading these comments for the past few weeks and grimacing for the continuing problems of Women in Management and Women at the Board Room Table in New Zealand for me specifically since the 70’s. I have to admit it has been hard enough over the past 50 years for younger women to get that first step through women’s organisations to get onto boards, councils and senior management aspects of business and no nothing has really changed in that time. I might add that it is my observation over the years that women in management do not always get the womanly support they need when promoted to senior management. Perhaps we should require a legal change so that where businesses employ women they need to have female representation both in management and on Boards of Management too. And if their are no women workers in those businesses at all that then produces a different conundrum!

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