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Q+A: Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter

Q+A: Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter interviewed by Corin Dann

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter issues warning to private sector over the low number women on boards.

‘if they’re not going to make progress, if it’s going to sit there at 19%, then we might have to start thinking about ways government can incentivise them.

CORIN Quotas?

JULIE ANNE Well, I think there’ll be a range of tools available. But we want to do what’s most effective, right? So whatever’s going to be most effective at motivating that change and ensuring that it doesn’t have any perverse consequences.’

Please find the full transcript attached and you can watch the interview here.

Q + A
Episode 17
Interviewed by CORIN DANN

CORIN Welcome back to Q + A, and it’s good morning to Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter. Good morning to you.

JULIE ANNE Good morning.

CORIN I wonder, just before we get into issues around boards, the issue of transgender rights for women – now, we did the story last week. The National Council for Women said it was dangerous to be raising it. What is your position on this issue?

JULIE ANNE Oh, I very much agree with The National Council of Women. Trans women are women. Ultimately, feminism is about equality for everyone, and trans people, gender diverse people face even more significant barriers than many women, privileged women like myself, so I think it’s absolutely our role to champion the rights of everyone.

CORIN So when the likes of Germaine Greer and those types of feminists push back and say no, there are biological differences and they don’t accept that – and there is a big debate in the UK about this.


CORIN What do we make of it? Because it’s sort of new territory.

JULIE ANNE I think that’s really unfortunate. I think the last thing we need to be doing is putting more barriers in the place of people who are already facing significant barriers – discrimination, you know, often times, worse than white women might experience.

CORIN All right. Very good. Now, let’s look at this issue of boards. So some progress, you’d have to say, being made in state sector when it comes to boards. You’re getting close to that 50% mark. You want your target by 2021, but the private sector – way behind. When do you get tough and actually bring in a quota?

JULIE ANNE Well, look, we have to start with what we can control. But what I think we’ve demonstrated over the last few decades is setting a target. Making that explicit decision to go and look for the qualified, talented women and other people who are underrepresented on boards and in governance works. You can make a difference. We’ve made it to 45.7%. We’ve announced that we’re increasing the target. You know, the last government reduced it from 50% to 45% so it would be easier to achieve. Well, we’ve achieved that now. We’re ready to go up towards 50% across all boards. That’s not to say 50% on every board; that’s across all boards and committees. And so we’re going to see where the private sector has got to. In the next month, they’re going to release their data.

CORIN But when you raise the issue about white men on boards, older white men on boards, there was a big backlash. If you were to go down the road of a quota, you could probably expect a backlash as well. What I’m interested in is why do you think men reacted that way to your comments?

JULIE ANNE Well, I think that the comments weren’t reported exactly as I said them. They were probably a little bit less politic. All I said was, you know, 81% of people on private sector boards in New Zealand are men. They’re mostly white. They’re mostly over a certain age. Some of them will need to move on if we’re going to get genuine diversity.

CORIN A lot of men in those positions felt threatened, right?

JULIE ANNE Yeah, but what I’ve said isn’t to say there’s no role for older white men. Of course there is. You can still have 50% of the roles on the boards. But, you know, the difference between 50% and 80% is quite a few positions. And I think it’s widely recognised in the private sector and out there in society that more diverse groups make better decisions. You get more successful businesses because you can reflect the diverse.

CORIN The Westpac report clearly shows that.


CORIN Yeah. But are you saying that some of those men have got into that position because they were white men?

JULIE ANNE Well, I think the reason there’s not diversity on boards is because we haven’t actively sought to overturn the status quo, which is the result of historic discrimination and bias and unconscious bias. So we just have to make an active effort to find those talented people. And through attrition, it can happen. You can replace people. I think there’s a role for men to play in terms of identifying people they can mentor and bring on to boards and champion that diversity. And so the key question is, you know, who is going to be responsible for this? And ultimately, the private sector is responsible for making those changes.

CORIN But what you’re saying is that they are going to have to get there themselves. You’re not going to force them to do it. Because that’s the point that I’m trying to make, which is, you know, you are going to get some resistance there. And are you willing to do that?

JULIE ANNE Well, the evidence is mixed on how successful that is. So quotas in some places have been successful, but they also can have perverse consequences. So what I would say is let’s start by putting up the challenge. NZX did have a diversity policy that they released. So they’ve said to their members you have to have a diversity policy or explain why not. That has increased diversity to some extent. We’re awaiting the next report, and I’m keen to see where they get to. But yeah, if they’re not going to make progress, if it’s going to sit there at 19%, then we might have to start thinking about ways government can incentivise them.

CORIN Quotas?

JULIE ANNE Well, I think there’ll be a range of tools available. But we want to do what’s most effective, right? So whatever’s going to be most effective at motivating that change and ensuring that it doesn’t have any perverse consequences.

CORIN All right. I want to talk about something which is very interesting. This is the CEDAW report, so our report to the UN about the progress we’re making in terms of discrimination against women. So you would have been going there today or yesterday to basically answer questions from the UN about the progress we’re making in this area. And it seems there are many areas we are not making progress, particularly around violence towards women. So what will this government be saying to the UN about how we’re going to make progress?

JULIE ANNE So we’ve sent my colleague, Under-Secretary Jane Logie, who’s responsible for domestic and sexual violence. It’s the very first time we’ve had this sort of executive role dedicated to reducing, eliminating domestic and sexual violence. The new government made a huge commitment, $76 million towards supporting women’s refuge, and we’ve got a working group plan across government to reduce violence against women. It will take time. I think that the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women is a fantastic opportunity for us to both show leadership in the world and own up to where we haven’t been good enough and how this government will make progress.
CORIN All right. One area that was raised by, again, the National Council of Women in its submission on this UN committee was the issue of gender budgets or gender analysis. So for those at home, we’re essentially saying if the government proposes a law or some new spending, it would be assessed as to whether it had positive benefits for women or negative, and then that was clearly, explicitly stated. Are you going to go down that road?

JULIE ANNE I think that gender budgeting has been shown to be very effective overseas. It’s just an analysis that shows how policies and spending are affecting people differently, and it can show up some inequality that we might not be aware of at the time that we’re putting in place our spending plans, putting in place our policies. And it is unfortunate that New Zealand has really lagged behind many other countries on this. So this is something that I’ve actively been discussing with the Minister of Finance, with Treasury – how can we implement this as part of an overall approach towards analysis of government spending? Which, of course, you’ll know, next year the government signalled—

CORIN Wellbeing budget.

JULIE ANNE We want to take a much more holistic approach to analysing how our policies and spending are affecting people because we know there’s still quite a bit of inequality in our society. Some of that is around gender. A lot of it is around Maori, Pacific outcomes.

CORIN So that’s an interesting point. So if you were to put into the budget a requirement that each piece of spending needed to say whether this was going to benefit women or harm them, would you also do that for Pacific, Maori and other groups that are clearly disadvantaged?

JULIE ANNE I think the goal of the wellbeing approach is very much to take into account what is the impact of government policy and spending and are we achieving the outcomes we want. And I think everyone in New Zealand wants this to be a country where everyone has great outcomes, great opportunities, and we’re not there yet. And the only way we’re going to get there is if we take, you know, an objective approach to analysing and being real about, well, how’s government spending fixing these problems? How is it affecting, you know—

CORIN And would it be all legislation, a la the human rights sort of issues?

JULIE ANNE Well, at the moment we already have lines like that in legislation. We say, what’s the impact on gender? What’s the impact on people with disabilities? What’s the impact on Maori? But it’s a very superficial analysis, and other countries like Canada, countries in Europe—In fact, even in Southeast Asia countries are far more advanced than New Zealand in terms of doing a more robust analysis.

CORIN So you could consider it for all legislation? Possible?

JULIE ANNE Yeah, well, we already have a line. Let’s make that line meaningful. Let’s make the analysis meaningful so it actually tells us something.

CORIN Just one last thing on the issue of boards and the state sector. One area where it seems Jackie Blue and some others have raised some concerns is that the top level CEOs and this issue with those five, I think, male CEOs that kind of moved around in those jobs at the top. Are you happy with that? That those jobs weren’t even advertised?

JULIE ANNE Look, I’m not going to comment on the process. What I am going to say is I’ve had extensive discussions with the State Services Commissioner and I am completely confident that he has a plan to get to gender equality in the top three layers of public sector—

CORIN Why won’t you comment on the process?

JULIE ANNE Well, I mean, that’s not up to me. Ultimately, that’s—

CORIN You’re the Minister of Women. You can have a view on that, can’t you?

JULIE ANNE Well, what I think is that we’re in a process of trying to respond to a lot of change. This government has come in wanting to change a lot of things, and there’s going to be five or six new vacancies at the very top. We’re actually pretty close. I think we’re at 45 or 47% of the top three layers of senior management are women. The key thing is making sure that it’s balanced in terms of responsibility and job size as well. But I’m very confident that the Commissioner has a plan and will achieve well early into this term gender equality in the top three layers of senior management.

CORIN Very good. Now, just finally, you’ve finished up, have you? You’re all set and ready to go.

JULIE ANNE Oh, well, I’m done with parliament. We have a two-week recess and then I’ll be very close to the due date, so I won’t be travelling back to Wellington. But I will be working from Auckland until the baby arrives.

CORIN Good luck, and I hope it all goes well.

JULIE ANNE Thanks so much.

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
Repeated Sunday evening at around 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
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