New Zealand's shame: The lack of women on boards

Miranda Burdon of Global Women says the lack of female directors on New 
Zealand company boards is "particularly shocking in this day and age".
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF
Miranda Burdon of Global Women says the lack of female directors on New Zealand company boards is "particularly shocking in this day and age".

A former drug company chairman has called on consumers to boycott the last five biggest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with no women on their boards.

"They are so clearly out of touch ... it would be good to see pressure from the media, politicians, ourselves [other business leaders] and consumers," Sir Philip Hampton the former chairman of pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline, told the Guardian newspaper late last year. 

Among the five was the Millennium & Copthorne Hotel Group, which has a company listed on the New Zealand sharemarket, which also has no women among its directors.

While the London Stock Exchange's FTSE 350 index has only five companies still with all-male boards, the New Zealand arm of the hotel group is among 27 NZX-listed companies which have no female directors.

READ MORE:
The man dividend from Genesis' gender equality drive
Tears of the chief executive
We need to face the uncomfortable truths, says Spark boss Simon Moutter
Millennial voices stifled by employers, Global Women research finds

The NZX is poised to update its latest board gender diversity figures, and Miranda Burdon, chief executive of Global Women, expected a modest increase in the proportion of directors who were women.

But Global Women's own count of 27 boards with no female directors was embarrassing for a country which prided itself on equality, she said..

"It's particularly shocking in this day and age," Burdon said.

In the United States, less than 3 per cent of listed companies have no female directors, she said. In Australia, it was less than 5 per cent.

The proportion of NZX listed company boards with no women was around 18 per cent, Burdon said.

The woman-free boards are clustered at the smaller end of the market, but some are on companies where a large proportion of their customers are women.

These include Millennium & Copthorne, Turners Automotive, Orion Health, and retailer Smiths City.

"From a purchasing perspective, on most consumer goods, 85 per cent of the decisions are made by women. The market is 51 per cent female," Burdon said.

Smiths City, Turners and Orion Health all stressed skills and experience over gender when seeking new board members.

Turners Automotive chairman Grant Baker said: "When Board vacancies arise or if there is a need to fill an identified skills gap, a range of candidates who offer relevant expertise are always considered, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or any other factors."
ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF
Turners Automotive chairman Grant Baker said: "When Board vacancies arise or if there is a need to fill an identified skills gap, a range of candidates who offer relevant expertise are always considered, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or any other factors."

Ian McCrae, chief executive of Orion Health said the healthcare software company "is proud of its diversity in the workplace, with more than 32 per cent female representation, which is the technology industry average".

The company had spent the last 18 months reviewing its business and going through a restructure.

Orion was now in a position to appoint new directors and would look for people "who have the rights skills and global experience," McCrae said.

Some of the country's 50 biggest listed companies, like telecommunications company Spark, have reached parity between male and female directors.

Burdon said change was happening, but not fast enough.

"I don't know what else will happen to inspire change," she said.

There are no women on the Smiths City board. Chairman Alastair Kerr says “the board refreshment process that started in 2017 and has so far seen the appointment of three new directors, including me, continues. Ensuring the board benefits from diverse perspectives is a key objective of this process.”
SUPPLIED
There are no women on the Smiths City board. Chairman Alastair Kerr says “the board refreshment process that started in 2017 and has so far seen the appointment of three new directors, including me, continues. Ensuring the board benefits from diverse perspectives is a key objective of this process.”

The United Kingdom rapidly increased the number of women directors following the adoption of voluntary standards agreed between business and the government in 2011 following a report by Lord Mervyn Davies. The target was to lift the proportion of FTSE 350 company directors who were women to 25 per cent.

By 2015, that was already passed, and a new target of 33 per cent by 2020 was set.

In 2011 there were 152 all-male boards in the FTSE 350 index, by 2015, there were only 15, falling to five by the end of 2018.

The UK voluntary standards were set in a bid by business to stave off the quota systems in countries like Norway, France, Italy, and Germany.

In 2017, New Zealand's Institute of Directors urged listed companies to follow the UK example and set themselves voluntary board gender diversity targets.

The 2015 Davies report argued there was a "business case for change" for increasing gender diversity on boards.

Spark chairwoman Justine Smyth overseas a board with four men, and four women.
SUPPLIED
Spark chairwoman Justine Smyth overseas a board with four men, and four women.

It reported a "positive impact" on boards, echoing a growing popular consensus that gender diverse boards perform better than single-gender boards, though several "meta-studies" (studies of research studies) on the correlation between gender diversity on boards and company performance, indicate the evidence is not conclusive.

One group of researchers, who conducted a study of studies in 2015, concluded "that a higher representation of females on corporate boards is neither related to a decrease, nor to an increase in firm financial performance".

[But] "Gender diversity should be promoted for ethical reasons to promote fairness," the group said.

THE WOMANLESS BOARDS
Global Women compiled a list of the NZX-listed companies without female directors, many of which appear in KiwiSaver funds. By the end of last year,1.48 million women and girls had KiwiSaver funds, compared to 1.43 million men and boys.
The companies on the list are:
* Argosy Property
* Augusta Capital
* Blackwell Global Holdings
* CBL Corporation
* CDL Investments New Zealand
* The Colonial Motor Company
* Future Mobility Solutions
* Geo
* Gentrack Group
* ikeGPS Group
* Millennium & Copthorne Hotels New Zealand
* Mercer Group
* New Talisman Gold Mines
* NZ Windfarms
* Orion Health Group
* PGG Wrightson
* Pushpay Holdings
* QEX Logistics
* Rubicon
* Scales Corporation
* Smiths City Group
* SeaDragon
* Smartpay Holdings
* Senior Trust Retirement Village Listed Fund
* Turners Automotive
* TRS Investments
* Veritas Investments

Stuff