In the driver's seat

TOP DRIVER: Manawatu Toyota chief executive Debbie Hart is one of just two women fronting the brand in New Zealand.
TOP DRIVER: Manawatu Toyota chief executive Debbie Hart is one of just two women fronting the brand in New Zealand.

Two of Manawatu's biggest employers have faced gender equality issues head-on, according to a census measuring Kiwi women's power and participation in the workforce.

Women are dominating in health and education in the region, but their participation in agribusiness and the higher echelon of the police and defence force remains static, the report shows.

Massey University has been highlighted in the Human Rights Commission's 2012 New Zealand Census of Women's Participation as the first university in New Zealand to undertake a pay equity review.

It has dramatically increased the number of women in high-ranking academic roles and now has an advisory group dedicated to the task.

Human development lecturer Cat Pause was on the committee for the 2009 review, and said the university had made strides since then, increasing the number of women in leading academic roles from 60 professors and associate professors in 2010 to 78 this year.

"I would say in the last few years Massey has made quite a lot of progress . . . a lot of places talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. You have to put processes in place and Massey has done that."

The report found New Zealand had "lost" its role as an international leader in progressing gender equality in terms of women's representation at the top, across the public and private sectors.

However MidCentral District Health Board shone in the biennial census, among three DHBs nationwide that had more than half of its elected board seats filled by women, and home to an 80 per cent female employee base.

The board was a member of the Equal Employment Opportunities Employers' Group, chief executive Murray Georgel said.

"MDHB has committed to having quality employment practices by being fair, and valuing the diverse range of people we employ."

Nationwide, women chief executives remain a rarity. Of the 610 directors of publicly listed companies on the New Zealand stock exchange, 90 are women.

Government departments were faring little better, with nine of them declaring a gender pay gap of more than 20 per cent.

So, statistically speaking, Manawatu Toyota chief executive Debbie Hart is an outlier. She started off as sole car saleswoman at the dealership in Palmerston North in the 1990s. Two decades later, she is the proud co-owner of four dealerships and a Lexus.

She is one of just two chief executives fronting the brand in New Zealand, a role she has enjoyed for eight years since she and husband Brendan Hart, who is general manager, bought the dealership. She acknowledges hers is a male-dominated profession, but her view is that anyone with a knack for a job can climb to the top, regardless of gender.

"Maybe it is perceived as a male industry," she said.

"I think that is a bit of a cliche. I don't think there is any difference if you're male or female if you've got passion. If you love your job it doesn't matter. I love this industry, there are always challenges and it's never boring."

Manawatu Standard