Woman of Influence 2016 Helen Robinson: NZ needs more female leadership

Anuja Nadkarni/FAIRFAX NZ

2016 Woman of Influence winner talks about the gap in female leadership in New Zealand

New Zealand is lacking female leadership in chief executive roles, businesswoman and entrepreneur Helen Robinson says.

This is because women are bypassing the chief executive position and going to senior leadership and governance roles, the winner of the supreme award at the 2016 Women of Influence awards, and director of Organic Initiative, said. 

"The role of a chief executive is quite different to other senior leadership or directorship roles, you learn a lot from being a chief executive and it can be quite isolating because you're kind of this conduit between the board and the organisation, but our country needs more woman CEOs," Robinson said.

Helen Robinson accepting her award at the 2016 Women of Influence event
Oliver Li/Fairfax NZ

Helen Robinson accepting her award at the 2016 Women of Influence event

"Potentially a lack of confidence means women think they're not good enough and look for directorships instead because boards are always trying to ensure women are in the mix."

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Robinson said the inclusion of women in chief executive succession plans could also make a difference.

The former chief executive of Microsoft New Zealand has a rich executive and governance career, ranging from chairing the Network for Learning to setting up social enterprise Organic Initiative. Robinson is also a director for Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development.

Robinson said she has always been a multi-tasker, from leading a number of sports teams and extra curricular activities at school to heading several projects for big organisations.

"I've always been one who likes lots to do and have very diverse roles that hopefully have impact."

She said all the roles and organisations she has been a part of have reflected her business philosophy, "do good at mass scale".

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She is also chairperson of Network for Learning (N4L) a crown company connecting every New Zealand school to a managed network and related content and services.

Robinson said being recognised as the supreme woman of influence for 2016 "felt amazing".

"We we have so many incredible women in New Zealand so I was taken aback when it was announced."

Robinson said her biggest inspiration has been her mother.

"She's the most intelligent woman I know, she got married young and had six kids very quickly. But in her 40s she still did a BA and MA in ancient history."

Her colleagues and team also inspire her.

"The older you get the more you realise how much you have to learn.

"You learn from every person and organisation you touch or get involved with," she said.

According to Robinson two key features every leader needs are knowing how to deal with ambiguity and being self aware.

"Generally women have the ability to manage ambiguity because they think broadly. But being self-aware is also important because if you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can accommodate for anything and have the most complimentary team."

Robinson said diversity is also important for businesses to flourish.

"Without a single shadow of a doubt you are going to have the best possible outcome. The diversity of the skill set matrix that makes up the best possible team."

She advises young businesswomen to build networks within their workplace but also find external groups and support to build their confidence on raising issues like negotiating pay, or taking on a promotion.

"Listen and learn, go to lunch, go to drinks after work. Have some great work relationships. Surround yourself with people in your workplace and you will very quickly learn that you're not alone, and that everybody is the same and is in this together," she said.

Entries and nominations for the 2017 Women of Influence Awards are open from April 11 to May 28, 2017.

Click here to nominate yourself or someone else: stuff.co.nz/womenofinfluence.

 - Stuff

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