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'Glacial Progress' In Women On Co. Boards

Human Rights Commission
Media Release

Census Report shows 'glacial progress' in women's representation on company boards

Top New Zealand companies are urged to consider women when appointing new board members after a new report shows only five per cent of directors of the top 100 companies of the NZX are female.

The first Census of Women's Participation in Governance and Professional Life shows that New Zealand lags behind other countries in terms of the numbers of women on boards of publicly listed companies with Australia at 8.4 per cent, the United Kingdom at 7.2 per cent and the United States at 13.6 per cent.

By contrast, New Zealand's Crown Companies, have seven times the proportion of female directors at 35.07 per cent.

The Census report has been produced by the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Centre for Women and Leadership at Massey University.

"What gets counted gets done, and the report provides a systematic benchmark from which to make progress," says EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.

"Anecdotal reports suggested that women were doing well getting on to boards but sadly the figures show otherwise. There's been only glacial progress from 1995 when figures showed that women comprised 3.86 per cent of boards of directors of publicly listed companies in New Zealand.

"What the Census shows is that there is a pool of experienced and competent women available who have been tapped for Crown Companies, but that the majority of publicly listed companies (around 70 per cent of the top 100) have no female directors," Dr McGregor says.

"We're urging board chairs, boards, chief executives and search companies to stretch their horizons when looking for new or replacement board members. We also urge shareholders to consider whether companies they invest in will be enhanced by female directors."

Dr McGregor said strong business case arguments exist for the recruitment of women to boards. These include:
* the positive impact on the reputation of a company;
* the provision of strategic input on women's product/market issues and company direction;
* women are exceeding in areas of education and their elevation can bring more high skilled people to boards;
* their presence may enhance board processes and deliberations;
* contributes to the firm's female employees;
* the time is right for more women because male directors are ageing.

Dr McGregor said popular Wellington retailer Kirkcaldie and Stains had recently recognised the business case argument for women and had appointed its first female director in 70 years.

She also commended four companies: Telecom, Independent News, Lyttelton Port Company and Wrightson, who, at 31 December 2003 when the census was undertaken, had two female board members and between 20-33 per cent women on their boards as a result of male to female ratios.

"What is interesting is that the newer NZAX has a much higher number of women on boards at 16.39 per cent, than the top 100 at 5.04 per cent. We know that changes in board composition are relatively slow to happen and that current board cultures are resistant to change, but these newer listed companies are smaller, innovative and perhaps less likely to be conservative."

"We know that boards are not intended to be democracies. However, diversity and women's participation is a matter of sound corporate strategy and has nothing to do with political correctness. There are many women who have undertaken directorship training, who sit on crown company boards and who have the training, skill, judgement, commitment and intelligence. In many cases what they lack is the opportunity."

Dr McGregor said boards that wanted to appoint women needed knowledge of available, qualified candidates. Director selection also needed to become more professional, transparent and rigorous. Advertising of vacant directorships and asking for expressions of interest could attract interest from top calibre candidates who may be unknown to the current board.

"We're hoping that the census will generate heightened awareness among business leaders and shareholders".

The Institute of Directors runs training programmes for prospective directors and many of those who attend are women. The Ministry of Women's Affairs runs a nominations service to increase the number of women participating as leaders and decision-makers on government boards and committees. The Census Report also provides information on the Crown Company Monitoring Advisory Unit that covers 35 boards.

The Census report is being formally launched at a breakfast function at Parliament at 7:45am on Wednesday 30 June by the Associate Minister of Justice, the Hon Margaret Wilson in association with the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Centre for Women and Leadership, Massey University.

ENDS

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