Boardroom gender equality balance falls short: equal employment opportunities commissioner

Equal employment opportunities commissioner Jackie Blue says there is still some way to go for women in listed companies.
ROSS SETFORD/FAIRFAX NZ

Equal employment opportunities commissioner Jackie Blue says there is still some way to go for women in listed companies.

It will be more than a decade before listed companies see gender equality in the boardroom, says the equal employment opportunities commissioner.

The 2015 gender diversity statistics released by the New Zealand Stock Exchange show the number of female directors has increased by 5 per cent since 2013 from 12.4 per cent to 17 per cent in 2015.

The NZX started collecting gender diversity statistics in 2013, following the lead of the Australian Stock Exchange.

Equal employment opportunities commissioner, Jackie Blue, said at the current rate of women directors being appointed to NZX boards, it would take about 15 years before 50 per cent equity was achieved.

"International research shows that inclusive workplaces and inclusive leaders are linked to greater creativity and innovation."

If companies were interested in innovation they needed to have proactive diversity and inclusion programmes up and running in their businesses, at all levels, she said.

The commission wanted it to be mandatory for all NZX main board listed companies to establish and disclose their gender and diversity policies, including measurable objectives and implementation in their annual reports, she said.

Companies listed on NZX's main board are required to provide a breakdown of the gender composition of directors and officers, and only those with a formal gender or diversity policy are required to give an evaluation of their performance with respect to that policy.

"A consistent theme that has emerged in our own and others research is that to bring women through to senior management level requires clear, committed leadership by the chief executive and positive affirmative policies such as mentoring and leadership programmes. It does not happen by osmosis."

The Human Rights Commission's Tracking Equality at Work tool recommended the NZX strengthens gender reporting by requiring that all listed companies have a gender diversity policy, and that they report on implementation, she said.

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Institute of directors chief executive Simon Arcus said the NZX statistics were a mixed bag but moving in the right direction.

It was encouraging to see there had been an increase in the number of female directors, which was "long overdue," he said.

However the statistics also had downside — they showed the range of female officers had crept back from 21 per cent to 19 cent.

"This concerns me, it's nowhere near where it should be."

If there was to be diversity at the top, it needed to be supported down the pipeline, he said.

"Good succession policy planning is important for diversity — it has to be top of mind for directors."

Businesses overseas had led by good example and now New Zealand needed to see more action in the way of diversity and succession, he said.

The call for the disclose of gender and diversity policies was a decision for the NZX to make but was not unfounded.

"I imagine at this time it is becoming more of a reality," Arcus said.

 - Stuff

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