Push to get more women on boards

03:16, Jun 13 2012

It's time to stop justifying why gender diversity makes good business sense and start acting to make a change.

That's the view of ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman who will take part in today's launch of lobby group The 25 Percent Group at Parliament.

With 12 founding members, it aims to lift female participation on New Zealand boards and in senior management from the current 9.3 per cent to 25 per cent by 2015.

Those involved intend walking the talk to improve diversity at senior management and board level in their own companies, and will use their influence to encourage others to follow suit.

The group is part of a growing international movement that includes the 30 Percent Club in Britain and the Male Champions of Change in Australia.

Chapman, who spent many years working across the Tasman, said she had seen the difference the Australian lobby group made.

As well as being "the right thing to do", she said gender diversity has been proven to work.

Frustrated at having to constantly justify why it makes good business sense, she instead wants to help drive the change and said anyone not yet convinced should just look at the "miles and miles" of consultant research which shows diversity of thought at leadership level improves business success.

Fellow member Michael Stiassny said there are some people who simply won't be convinced, but that if interest can be ignited in a new group of business people then that will be help drive the message.

"Cynics may see it as a woman's league and say why are these people doing it," Stiassny said.  "We won't change those people's views."

While gender diversity is the group's first target, he sees it as a first step towards making sure boards reap the full benefits of diverse thinking spanning age, culture and experience.

"People with different views are always going to get better outcomes," Stiassny said.

Dave Chambers, managing director of Progressive Enterprises joined the group because it "makes sound business sense" and fits with his organisations thinking.

The nationwide retailer said while some groups tend to fall back on "traditional thinking" his business had 70 per cent female customer and 50 percent female staff.

"So why is there not more representation at senior level," he asked. Progressive currently has 16 per cent female New Zealand senior executives but a 60 per cent participation rate in its future leaders programme so something obviously needs to be done to convert that, he said
The 25 Percent Group launch comes ahead of proposed changes by the NZX to reporting on diversity within listed companies.

In a submission to the NZX, the group said evidence from a study of Fortune 500 firms suggested boards with higher proportions of women provided between 26 and 60 per cent higher returns on investment than boards with few or no women.

While against mandatory quotas, the group suggests the NZX should follow gender-diversity measures in Britain and Australia which go a step further than some options put forward by the NZX. They ranged from requiring issuers to measure and report on their board and senior management team composition as they do in Australia, to leaving it up to issuers to decide if diversity was applicable to them, to doing nothing.

Submissions on the NZX proposal closed last month and the board is likely to make a final decision at its next meeting.

The group's founding members are NZX chairman Andrew Harmos, Goldman Sachs NZ boss Andrew Barclay, Vector chairman Michael Stiassny, Mighty River Power and Auckland Airport chairwoman Joan Withers, Progressive Enterprises managing director Dave Chambers, ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman, Fletcher Building chief executive Jonathan Ling, Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf, MediaWorks chief Sussan Turner, Telecom and Transpower chairman Mark Verbiest, former Telecom chairman Wayne Boyd, and independent director Jan Dawson.