Skills of both genders vital to society

Last updated 12:00 21/11/2012
ONLY USING HALF OUR RESOURCES: Zonta Club of Manawatu president Jo Innes says there has to be more effort made to include women’s particular skills in workplace management, otherwise half society’s talents and gifts will continue to be wasted.

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Society's losing out because of the battle between the sexes for equality, says Jo Innes, president of Zonta Club of Manawatu.

This doesn't mean she's hanging up her feminist principles - far from it. She's fully committed to equal rights and equal opportunities for everyone.

"But I do wonder if the fighting in that battle for equal rights has done us all a disservice. We don't need a war, nobody wins those.

"What we need is more co-operation and better use of everyone's gifts and talents, so that everyone in society benefits."

Zonta is a service club for business and professional women: Its goal is to advance the status of women through service and advocacy, at local, national, and international levels. And Dr Innes brings extra knowledge to her views about the importance of women getting fair access to top jobs. Her doctorate research delved into ways to improve business excellence in New Zealand service organisations.

Now a business consultant, one conclusion she's come to - and national and international research backs this - is that New Zealand businesses and organisations suffer from very short-cycle thinking by managers. There isn't enough long-term strategy, the thinking needed to take a business beyond the looming crisis, the next project, or next year's budget.

"Our average chief executive turns over every 2 to three years. That's a very short cycle. And you understand that when you look at our chief executives and senior managers - the majority are men, A-type personalities, action guys, project-driven, extremely competitive, do this right now then move on to the next thing."

All excellent, necessary characteristics, but not the only requirements for managing people to get the best from them. The ability to build relationships and think long-term isn't being given the emphasis it needs - and Dr Innes says international research shows women are extremely good at these skills.

Australia and New Zealand are now pushing to get more women, and therefore more of those skills, on to boards and up from middle management into senior management. There's growing recognition that they're sorely needed, she says.

It's clear that society needs the skills both genders bring, but what's not so clear is why New Zealand women aren't getting the top jobs. It's easy to dismiss it as "boy's club" and to say that many A-type personality managers prefer to surround themselves with like-minded thinkers, rather than people who might quietly challenge them with other skills and methods, but Dr Innes says it's more subtle than that.

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"There's a saying, a man will apply for a job if he thinks he can do 20 per cent of it. A woman won't, not until she's sure she's on top of 80 per cent of it. Gross generalisations, but it shows the different approaches."

She's looking forward to how the next generation of young women will handle this challenge. The change has to happen, otherwise society will keep wasting half its skill set. Meanwhile, Zonta International is doing its bit to improve education, health, and to help stop violence against women.

Zonta Manawatu each year awards scholarships for women in business. Palmerston North nominations for the Jane M Klausman Women in Business Scholarship have had three national or international winners in as many years.

Zonta also works with the Federation of Graduate Women Charitable Trust to provide scholarships for women retraining or undertaking further education, in business, public affairs, science and technology. This makes a big difference for women, and they in turn spread their newly acquired expertise through society.

Zonta also worked hard to prevent violence against women. Manawatu Zonta, with Awapuni Rotary, are organising an event to promote safe happy families for White Ribbon anti-violence day, on Sunday. Anyone interested is welcome to attend, at the City Library, from 1pm to 3.30pm.

Other local initiatives included supporting Camellia House, Palmerston North Women's Refuge, the Whakatipuria Teen Parent School based at Freyberg High School, and making 100 breast cushions a year to help women after breast cancer surgery.

Zonta's Manawatu membership is now around 20, and more interested women would be useful. Dr Innes said members needed to have time and skills to give to the organisation.

"We invite prospective members to help with several events, and encourage them into the organisation that way," she says.

After White Ribbon Day, Zonta's next event is Christmas@Caccia on December 7, a fundraiser for Palmerston North Women's Refuge and the Sophie Elliot Foundation.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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