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Glass ceiling gets thicker for NZ business women

Glass ceiling gets thicker for NZ business women

7 March 2014

The glass ceiling that women must push through to gain board or senior management roles in New Zealand businesses appears to be getting thicker and more difficult to penetrate, according to the latest research from Grant Thornton.

Figures released from the Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, show that New Zealand women are going backwards on several fronts when it comes to senior management and boardroom appointments.

Stacey Davies, partner, Grant Thornton New Zealand, said that in the last 10 years, the proportion of senior roles filled by women had not changed from 31%, against a global average that has increased from 19% to 24%.

“In 2004 New Zealand was ranked fourth in the world of the countries surveyed, whereas now we are 15th – that’s a big fall. Whereas once we were world leaders, we are now followers and looking likely to fall further behind going by other indicators in the survey.

“The number of businesses in New Zealand that have no women in senior management roles has increased from 26% in 2012 to 32% in 2014, going against the global trend where there has been a slight decrease from 34% to 33%,” she said.

“And only 7% of New Zealand businesses are looking to hire or promote women into senior management over the next 12 months. This is nearly half of last year’s already low figure of 13%.

Even on the question of introducing a quota system to guarantee a percentage of women in senior management or board positions New Zealand went against the global trend. In New Zealand the number supporting a quota dropped from 44% to 38% over the last year, almost a direct flip of international figures which went from 37% to 45%.

“Support amongst businesses for quotas is steadily growing and regulation in Europe seems to be moving in that direction. Personally, I have mixed feelings about quotas – if they shine a spotlight on the shortfall of women on boards then that is helpful, but we certainly do not want to get to a point where women are simply brought in to make up the numbers. I am more interested in what businesses can do to facilitate the path of women to the boardroom.”

Davies said that these figures are disappointing as women in New Zealand are more educated than they have ever been, yet the numbers holding down senior management positions is static at best and starting to be overtaken by the rest of the world. In 2010 there were more female than male tertiary graduates, with 59% of all tertiary graduates being women, holding 64% of bachelor degrees.

“The survey also identified that globally, the number of women graduates finding employment as a percentage of their male counterparts is surprisingly low and this percentage is further watered down later in their careers by childbirth and motherhood.

“From personal experience, I know that to hold down a senior management role requires time and commitment and if you have been out of the management front line for a year or so then it can be daunting stepping back into the fray.

‘Some form of mentoring scheme while these women get back up to full speed again would be very supportive and could result in more women returning to the level of position they once had.

“Unfortunately, only 1% of businesses surveyed in New Zealand run a specific programme to support and mentor women. Perhaps this area needs to be re-evaluated.

“It is well proven that greater diversity in decision making produces better outcomes. For businesses, better decisions mean stronger growth, so it is in the interest of New Zealand business in general to facilitate the path of women from the classroom to management to the boardroom. The trend is worrying, but the number of women tertiary graduates is encouraging. We just need to make the path from academia to management easier,” she said.

For a copy of the full report click here:

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 12,500 businesses per year across 45 economies. This unique survey draws upon 22 years of trend data for most European participants and 11 years for many non-European economies. For more information, please visit:

Data collection
Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton’s core research partner, Experian. Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis. The research is carried out primarily by telephone.

IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with 6,700 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted between November 2013 and February 2014.


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