Call for NZX to act on gender quotas

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 16/04/2014
Annick Masselot
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GET OVER FEAR: UC associate professor Annick Masselot said the NZX should go further with the introduction of quotas.

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New Zealand should "get over" its fear of gender quotas, a University of Canterbury gender equality expert says.

Women are under-represented in New Zealand's biggest companies, with women representing only 12 per cent of NZX's listed companies' directors.

The NZX's first Gender Diversity Annual Statistics released last month revealed that among 109 companies, male directors totalled 88 per cent, and company officers were 81 per cent male and 19 per cent female.

The release follows NZX's requirement introduced in 2012 for listed companies to report on the number of women they have at the top in their annual reports.

UC associate professor Annick Masselot said the NZX should go further with the introduction of quotas.

"In fact I think they have a duty to do that . . . Diversity is not an option."

She said NZX's diversity rules should at least match rules from the Australian sharemarket that required companies to disclose whether they had a formal diversity policy, and "if not, why not".

Masselot said several studies found that having women on boards led to an improvement in financial metrics.

Countries including Norway had introduced gender quotas in company boards using hard legislative measures. Others, including Australia had increased the number of women on boards with the use of "soft" self-regulation, she said.

The NZX would have the power to introduce gender quotas, but did not consider it appropriate to introduce them and had no intention to do so, a spokeswoman said.

"It's not our role to determine on behalf of shareholders what their board should look like."

Diverse NZ Inc chairwoman and company director Sue Sheldon said she did not support quotas.

"I think the introduction of quotas is likely to lead to the appointment of people who may not have the right capability."

However, she said she would personally be happy if the NZX required listed companies to disclose whether they had a gender equality policy, and "if not, why not".

Liz Coutts, a director at Ebos and five other companies, was also against gender quotas.

"I certainly wouldn't want to be in a boardroom because of a quota."

However, she said New Zealand companies had to put in "a lot more effort" into developing women for leadership roles.

Masselot said gender quotas had become taboo in New Zealand following last year's "man-ban" controversy when Labour suggested a new policy to increase female representation in its caucus.

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But quotas did not mean that under-qualified women would be favoured over qualified men, she said. Women would be preferred at equal qualification.

The Institute of Directors said internal reports showed that the female talent pool was deepening.

A spokesperson said quotas were "a last resort" measure.

"Companies should develop their own diversity policies and report to shareholders on progress against them."

- BusinessDay

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