History to blame for lack of women in NZ Business Hall of Fame

A rarity of her time, Mary Jane Innes ran Waikato Brewery in the late 19th century and was inducted into the NZ Business ...
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A rarity of her time, Mary Jane Innes ran Waikato Brewery in the late 19th century and was inducted into the NZ Business Hall of Fame in 2013.

This year's New Zealand Business Hall of Fame inductees have been named and it's an impressive list, except for one glaring issue.

Sir Peter Jackson, Mainfreight founder Bruce Plested and founder of New Zealand's rubber industry George Chapman Ward Reid were among the eight named on the entirely male-dominated list.

In fact, there have been fewer than a dozen women inducted in the 22 years the hall of fame has been running.

Sunshine Books founder Dame Wendy Pye was inducted into the NZ Business Hall of Fame in 2004.
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ

Sunshine Books founder Dame Wendy Pye was inducted into the NZ Business Hall of Fame in 2004.

According to the chairman of the independent selection panel, Sir Eion Edgar, this was because the hall of fame mainly celebrated those who had already died or had decades of business experience.

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The reality was, women were, until recently, a far rarer breed than men in the business world, Edgar said.

Even those women who were in business did not necessarily get the acknowledgement they deserved at the time.

Mary Jane Innes, who was inducted in the hall of fame in 2013, managed Te Awamutu Brewery and Waikato Brewery in the late 1800s and built a new soda-bottling factory.

But, she was never publicly acknowledged as the business owner, Edgar said.

The first female laureate honoured by the hall was the granddaughter of the second Maori king, Princess Te Puea Herangi, recognised for her leadership in the Maori King Movement and the rebirth of Maori crafts. 

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Other women inducted included founder of Sunshine Books Dame Wendy Pye, founder of what became Auckland department store chain Smith & Caughey Marianne Caughey Smith Preston, and founder of the business that became Quality Bakers Southland, Annie Millar. 

Edgar said the selection process involved public nominations followed by extensive research and then selection by the panel based on criteria, including contribution to business leadership and communities.

This year, nominations were not in the favour of businesswomen, he said.

"[The panel] would be delighted if more women were nominated."

"I think that will change over time as more younger women are coming through, who are very talented," Edgar said.

Young Enterprise Trust chief executive Terry Shubkin​ said the trust was acutely aware of issues around getting more women involved with business and they wanted to see the number of women increase.

The trust's flagship programme, The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme, which gets school students to create and run their own businesses, actually attracted more girls than boys.

"We are seeing, with teens, that girls are excited about business and they do well and they have the drive," Shubkin said.

Many things influenced whether the inspired young businesswomen actually pursued business later on, including bringing up families, lack of confidence and lack of mentoring or support.

Therefore, it was important that organisations identified barriers for women and others of diverse backgrounds, and supported people in overcoming those barriers, Shubkin said.

"What our hope is that [the number of women in the NZ Business Hall of Fame] is not going to be an issue in five, 10, 20 years time because there's so much more diversity these days."

 - Stuff

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