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Dalziel: Census of Women’s Participation

Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Commerce, Minister for Food Safety,
Associate Minister of Justice, MP for Christchurch East


31 March 2008 Speech Notes


Launch of 2008 New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation

Speech by Associate Justice Minister Lianne Dalziel at launch of the 2008 New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation
Banquet Hall
Parliament Buildings
Wellington
6pm

To my Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues; to members of the Human Rights Commission, especially our EEO Commissioner Judy McGregor; to all distinguished guests welcome to Parliament for the launch of the 2008 Census of Women’s Participation. I would particularly like to acknowledge four inspirational women who are here tonight and who I know Judy plans to introduce more fully shortly: Frana Cardno, Carmel Fisher, Helen Kelly and Anne Urlwin. It is wonderful to see you here tonight.

When I launched this report two years ago, I did so as Minister of Women’s Affairs, but do so this time as Associate Minister of Justice, with responsibility for Human Rights. I am pleased that I have been able to be joined by my colleague, Hon Steve Chadwick, in her role as Minister of Women's Affairs. There is no question that this report is important to us both in the context of women's rights as human rights. The Census is an important tool for raising awareness of gender inequality and for driving progress toward equality.

In its concluding comments on New Zealand’s latest periodic report to CEDAW, which I had the privilege to present on behalf of New Zealand, the Committee praised us for our commitment to achieving equality for all women and the full implementation of the Convention.

In particular, the Committee commended us for the adoption of the Action Plan for New Zealand Women and for our comprehensive support for women’s participation in employment. The Committee noted the particular examples of the “Working for Families” package for the assistance it provides to families in meeting the costs of childcare and 20 hours per week of free education for three and four-year-old children.

In accordance with normal practice, the Committee also made some recommendations, some of which reflect the findings in the Census.

For example, while the Committee noted that women held the highest constitutional positions in New Zealand, it remained concerned that women remained under-represented in local government, district health boards, crown companies and the judiciary. It recommended that New Zealand take concrete action to increase the number of women in decision-making positions in those areas.
This Census points out that nowhere do we have parity in leadership and it makes some challenging recommendations. Everyone, both in the public and the private sectors, needs this prodding to make improvements.

While women are increasing their participation in leadership roles in the public sector, the government agrees that New Zealand is making slow progress. In particular, the private corporate sector is lagging behind in the number of women taking up governance positions.

No one is advocating that women should to be appointed to boards just because they are women, but we know that successful companies have recognised the benefits diversity brings to both their governance and their management. The private sector needs to make the biggest strides and because they are so far behind.

There have been suggestions than New Zealand should introduce quotas as has occurred in Norway. A legislative 40 per cent quota for each sex has seen the numbers of women on boards increase to over 30 per cent in a relatively short period of time. There were those who criticised the stick approach and I must say that it is not an approach I favour.

I honestly believe that New Zealanders as a whole, men and women, would see legislation as heavy handed. Successive New Zealand governments have recognised our own record in the public sector as needing to be addressed and have steadily been working towards equal representation of women and men on its boards. The fact that we have made very significant progress towards achieving that balance shows that it can be done. As I have said on several occasions, the target works because we set it; it wasn't imposed; we are committed to achieving the goal.

The Census suggests, however that we have reached a plateau – a 1 per cent increase in the past 2 years leaves us with 8 per cent to achieve in the next 2 years. Well instead of pulling the plug, we just have to get more assertive about achieving the goal. It can be done and I remain committed to seeing it through with my colleagues.

The issue for the private sector is even more challenging. Seven per cent to 8 per cent in two years cannot be acceptable in anyone's terms. However it does reflect the simple truth that most companies have not even begun to recognise that there is a problem. The Census makes it harder for them to ignore the problem, as will the very clear evidence from overseas that companies with diversity on their boards are more profitable than those with few or no women on boards. We should see what we can achieve with education and with a lot more public scrutiny of business performance in this area before we start talking about any further steps.

I have noted in the past that shareholder pressure has brought about changes in the way firms approach matters like triple bottom-line; so I believe it is vital that we arm shareholders with the information they need to take on this challenge as well. Are firms maximising shareholder value, when they have such a narrow set of views at the boardroom table?

The Census provides a benchmarking tool for monitoring women's progress in the boardroom.

It encourages board chairs and other directors to reflect on the diversity and current composition of their boards and assists shareholders and institutional investors to consider board succession planning. It allows national women’s organisations to focus attention on gender participation in governance and decision-making and to pursue activities and policies aimed at closing the gender gaps.

Information from interviews with key private sector male and female directors and recruiting agencies indicates that increasingly, chairs and boards actively seek women candidates. Reasons for doing so include pragmatic business considerations, fairness and equity issues, and a belief in the benefits that diversity brings to board decision-making.

So there is agreement about the problem of women’s participation. What is needed is active steps to ensure that the recommendations such as those made in the Census are heard by the right people. We need to do several things, including:

- ensuring women’s access to quality work, which involves moving towards more flexible work practices than currently exist;

- providing good access to services, such as high quality childcare, that allow women to make genuine choices about how and when they work;

- making it easy for women to move in and out of work with minimal impact, for instance by having flexible leave provisions;

- ensuring equitable reward for work – because pay discrimination distorts the choices available to families about how work and care might be shared; in other words, if unpaid leave needs to be taken if a child is sick, and if men are paid more than women, then the decision for a woman to stay at home may be purely one of economics rather than genuine choice; and finally

- supporting men’s choices about involvement in family life by making it easier for them to participate in the raising of their children and the running of the household.

Again, the Commission has provided an Agenda for Change as part of the report.

The Minister of Women's Affairs and I have discussed this informally and agree that there is more that we can do to assist the private sector in achieving the goal of improved participation, whether it's identifying those women who could serve on company boards – and in that regard I acknowledge the private sector stepping up to the plate with two databases now in place – through to mentoring, which is so critical to anyone advancing to leadership roles.

Once again, I want to thank the Human Rights Commission, and especially Judy McGregor, for the Census and for calling us all – from the private sector to the government – to account for improving the participation of women in leadership and other areas of life.

We have some way to go, however I am heartened in the knowledge that we all benefit when we get the balance right.


ENDS

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