Initiative to get more women in senior business

Last updated 05:00 12/11/2012
April Mackenzie
April Mackenzie

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The glass ceiling is a reality, and there are still people who believe a woman has no place in the boardroom, a top female accountant says.

New Zealander April Mackenzie is the most senior woman in Grant Thornton International, the umbrella organisation for the global accounting firm.

The New York-based executive is at the forefront of a worldwide initiative to get more women in the firm's upper echelons.

The Grant Thornton Women's International Leadership Link was officially launched last month to share training, knowledge and programmes throughout the firm's network, with the aim of creating a more promotion-friendly environment for women.

Grant Thornton's International Business Report for 2012 says only one in five senior managers around the world are women, a figure little changed since 2004.

Mackenzie says while Grant Thornton itself "holds its own" in terms of senior women in comparison with others in the industry, "one would not hold up the accounting industry as the poster child".

In New Zealand, 24 per cent of Grant Thornton senior managers are women. "It's about making sure we walk the talk, really."

So far, 125 employees, both male and female, from 39 countries have joined Leadership Link. The idea is to help member firms put in place initiatives that ensure they think about the skills all staff need for career and business development in gender-neutral terms, she said.

For example, too much business was still done on the golf course, and women who were assertive and decisive were perceived as aggressive and bossy.

Women in senior roles also tended to be clustered in human resources and finance.

Despite studies showing companies with women on their boards and management teams did better, the wider business community was still not embracing the issue as a serious business topic, Mackenzie said.

Initiatives such as the NZX's incoming rule change requiring listed companies to report on how many women they have at the top were a good place to start.

"I'm not a champion of the likes of quotas locked into the laws or anything like that, but you know, we have to do something." MacKenzie said.

"Is the glass ceiling real? Yes. Do you have to put up with ‘inappropriate' comments, do I meet people who forget to give me my hand back? They are real."

Women brought unique perspectives and ideas to the table, she said. "I don't get sucked into the ‘group-think', because you simply don't think like that."

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The International Business Report found no clear correlation between flexible working practices or female economic activity and the proportion of women in senior management.

Russia has the highest proportion of women in senior management at 46 per cent.

Countries such as Botswana and Thailand, where people tended to live near extended family who provided built-in childcare, also had a higher number of female executives.

Germany has the second to lowest proportion of women top managers at 13 per cent, down from 16 per cent in 2004. Only Japan is lower at 5 per cent.

Germany's generous maternity leave provisions, allowing mothers to keep their jobs open for up to three years after a pregnancy, may be a reason.

- Fairfax Media

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