Boardroom gender equality 35 years away

01:37, Nov 26 2012

Women hold more directorships in our biggest listed companies than two years ago, but boardroom gender equality is still 35 years away at current improvement rates, the Human Rights Commission says.

The commission's latest Census of Women's Participation reveals women hold 14.75 per cent of directorships in the top 100 companies by market capitalisation.

That is an increase of 5.43 percentage points on 2010, when women held 9.32 per cent of directorships.

Equal opportunities employment commissioner Judy McGregor said it was the first time New Zealand had climbed over 10 per cent, and that was partly due to the influence of companies that were dual-listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.

"The effect across the Tasman of gender diversity reporting has had a positive follow on effect in New Zealand and we can expect a bit more of an increase once the NZX's diversity rule comes into play at the end of the year. However, at the current rate of progress it will be another 35 years before boardroom gender equality is achieved."

The NZX will require listed companies to provide a breakdown of gender composition at executive-team and board level in their annual reports, and compare it with the previous year.

It will also evaluate companies' formal diversity policies, if they have them, but will stop short of making such policies compulsory.

The commission said 69 women now held 90 directorships in 55 of the 100 biggest NZX-listed firms. That meant 45 companies were still without female representation, which was "simply poor business and unacceptable in 2012", Dr McGregor said.

They include two top 10 companies, TrustPower and Sky Network Television. Sky spokeswoman Kirsty Way said it aimed to have directors with a mix of skills relevant to its business.

"We have had female directors in the past. We're very aware we don't at present... and that's an issue under review by our board."

TrustPower could not immediately be reached for comment.

McGregor said the 55 companies with female representation was an increase of 12 from 2010. "What is really great to see is that nine top 100 companies now have three female directors on their boards, compared with two companies only in 2010. Governance experts have long regarded 30 per cent as the level in which the women's perspective can make a real difference."

Those nine top 100 companies include Chorus, Westpac and Michael Hill International.

Fourteen women now held multiple directorships, up from eight in 2010.

Seven women, including three directors of fund companies, held three directorships each, while seven other women had two directorships each.

"We have not yet seen the emergence of an 'old girls' network to rival the 'old boys' network," Dr McGregor said.

At least 12 of the women on the boards of top-100 companies were based overseas.

The commission said women now also held 15.19 of directorships in the 40 companies on the NZX Debt Market, an increase of more than 5 per cent on 2010.

But female representation on the NZX Alternative Market had slipped slightly to 6.31 per cent.

McGregor said it was pleasing to see slow, incremental gains for women in corporate governance. "But it is now clear that New Zealand is a follower rather than a leader. We're the fifteenth country to introduce gender diversity reporting by listed companies and we're middle of the pack internationally now European countries have adopted government-mandated quotas."