The Last Word: Katie Lahey

“The lack of women on boards should and, in countries other than New Zealand, is ringing warning bells for corporate leaders,” says Lahey. “The composition of board should reflect the company’s market and customer base. Companies that rely solely on men to make strategic decisions on products, innovation and growth are short-changing themselves on new ideas and different views on how to address their market. diverse group of directors is more likely to raise questions, challenge the status quo or spot new opportunities. However, New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to appointing women as directors or senior executives.”

The latest statistics released by global recruiters Korn/Ferry International show that more of New Zealand’s top 100 boards by market capitalisation exclude women from their boardrooms than any of the seven Asia-Pacific countries surveyed. And, to make matters worse, the percentage of women on Asian boards is about half that of European and North American boards.

Sixty five percent of New Zealand’s top 100 boards excluded women directors. That compared with 29 percent in Australia, 59 percent in Singapore, 57 percent in India, 56 percent in Malaysia, 43 percent in Hong Kong and 39 percent in China. And none of the New Zealand companies surveyed employed female chief executives – the lowest level of all the countries surveyed.

Other countries are now seriously addressing this issue, including Australia where boards must report their organisation’s level of gender diversity. With no mandated requirement other than to report the facts of the organisation’s gender balance, the number of women appointed to Australia’s corporate boards has jumped from around eight percent year ago to 14 percent in less than year.

“New Zealand could do worse than follow the Australian approach,” says Lahey. “What it shows is that relatively small change can have major impact. And by reporting the number of male and female employees in business the questions become obvious. With so many women on the payroll, how come there are so few in leadership roles? It does not make sense or look right.”

Lahey emphaises that chairmen and male directors are critical to progress. “Men get fed up with women whingeing about their situation. However, what is changing, even in countries like Australia, is that men are now talking to men about the issue. That is real catalyst for change. Influential individuals like David Gonski, chairman of the ASX, have embraced the issue and that has helped change attitudes in Australia’s corporate world,” she says. “Male champions make all the difference.”

• From an interview with Reg Birchfield in the September issue of The Director. For the full article visit www.management.co.nz.

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