Ordinary Kiwi women finalists in Women of Influence awards

Charlotte Korte is a finalist in the 2018 Women of Influence Awards for her part in starting Mesh Down Under, an advocacy group for patients suffering because of surgical mesh implants.
BEVAN READ/STUFF
Charlotte Korte is a finalist in the 2018 Women of Influence Awards for her part in starting Mesh Down Under, an advocacy group for patients suffering because of surgical mesh implants.

There's a multiple gold medal-winning athlete, a secretary of defence and an acting coach to Hollywood stars among the finalists announced today in the 2018 Women of Influence Awards.

Sophie Pascoe, Helene Quilter and Miranda Harcourt join 83 New Zealanders shortlisted not only for their achievements but their positive influence, in categories spanning business, the arts and community leadership.

Today's finalists also feature less prominent women, forced by extraordinary circumstances to push themselves in ways they'd never imagined possible. Charlotte Korte is one of them.

The softly-spoken Titirangi mother of two might insist she's unremarkable. But in 2010, her life was forever changed by what should have been a routine operation.

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Korte and her Mesh Down Under co-founders Carmel Berry and Patricia Sullivan.
SUPPLIED
Korte and her Mesh Down Under co-founders Carmel Berry and Patricia Sullivan.

"If I'd known eight years ago where I would end up now, I would have laughed," she admits. "I was an active mum; I was a teacher; I loved the outdoors, yoga, going out. When I look back and at my life now, it's considerably changed."

Korte developed complications from an implant of surgical mesh – a polypropylene medical device treating urinary stress incontinence and vaginal prolapse in women, which can also be used in hernia procedures.

The mesh has become internationally notorious and its use banned or restricted in some countries because of the severity of problems it can cause patients, including chronic pain, incontinence and painful intercourse.

Actress, acting coach and director, Miranda Harcourt is a finalist in the Arts & Culture category of the Women of Influence awards.
ALDEN WILLIAMS/STUFF
Actress, acting coach and director, Miranda Harcourt is a finalist in the Arts & Culture category of the Women of Influence awards.

​Korte's experience led her to connect with Carmel Berry and Patricia Sullivan, and in 2012 they formed the support and advocacy group Mesh Down Under. They began with six members; today, there are over 600. It's become the ardent patient voice in the public debate about mesh.

"I've met so many amazing people through this," says Korte. Some are horribly injured; there have been suicides. The courage of survivors compels her to keep campaigning. "They keep getting up and keep going. That's inspired me to go on."

Korte has turned lobbyist in the six-year battle to protect people from mesh harm. She has co-presented a petition to a parliamentary select committee; argued with a surgeon on radio; spoken to an Australian Senate inquiry, and heavily criticised politicians and health officials for failing to act decisively.

"It's funny, because I'm terrified of public speaking," she laughs. Her passion for the issue makes her brave but emotionally, it's exhausting.

"This is a really hard job. There's been many a time we wanted to give up. We're tired. I've had enough of campaigning. I want to put some strategies in place to fix things."

Nine-time Paralympic gold medalist Sophie Pascoe is a finalist in the diversity category.
Clive Rose
Nine-time Paralympic gold medalist Sophie Pascoe is a finalist in the diversity category.

Women of Influence judge, Stuff CEO Sinead Boucher says this year's line-up of finalists notably includes unsung influential women, like Korte, whose stories are rarely told.

"It is powerful that they are being recognised not for individual achievement, but for influence – the impact they have on others around them.

"In this year where we celebrate 125 years of suffrage, it means a lot to me to see so many examples of women making an enormous difference in the lives of others."

So, how does Korte feel to be recognised in the public policy category of the Women of Influence Awards?

"I'm stunned, actually," she says, making clear she'd accept a win on behalf of the three-strong Mesh Down Under team. "The main reason I do what I do is to prevent what happened to me and my family from happening to anyone else."

Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter is nominated for her work in public policy.
GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF
Secretary of Defence Helene Quilter is nominated for her work in public policy.

From boutique to big deal

Angela Meyer is many things, and one of them is irrepressible.

In the early 2000s the Wellington marketing and communications professional set up the comedy dance troupe Real Hot Bitches, the Man Bank dating site, and later wrote a memoir about the time she, her husband and toddler son set sail across the Pacific.

Today she's a finalist in the Women of Influence business enterprise category for her emergence as a corporate change-maker.

As co-founder of the female-led creative agency Double Denim and the Ace Lady Network with Anna Deans, Meyer has gone from boutique to big deal – recently winning the New Zealand Labour Party as a client.

Their work challenges brands, companies and political parties to connect with, cater to and care about New Zealand women, whose power as consumers, employees and cultural influencers has been underestimated for too long.

It's overwhelming women who decide what to buy in New Zealand, says Meyer. They're an economic force, yet they're insecure. A quarter feel unloved, most feel anxious and unsafe, and many are experiencing abuse or know someone who is.

"What if gender equality was an everyday reality?" marketer Angela Meyer will ask of her clients.
Supplied
"What if gender equality was an everyday reality?" marketer Angela Meyer will ask of her clients.

"I literally had my head in my hands asking, what is going on?" she says of Double Denim's deep-dive research into Kiwi women.

"It also made me go, there's a massive opportunity here, for our clients, for us, for the country, to actually address this and ask: how can we make people feel loved, connected and valued?"

It's out with sexist advertising, or employers paying only lip service to equal opportunity. Corporate culture needs to change, as does policy, language, and advertising.

"What if gender equality was an everyday reality?" Meyer will ask clients. She warns them they need to be honest with the female market and respect it, because in the era of #MeToo and social media, a backlash could be swift and merciless. "If you're not ahead of this curve, you're going to be left behind."

It's Double Denim's policy to collaborate with professional women. It contracts their services, puts them in touch with each other and shares expertise.

When only a tiny percentage of the world's creative agencies are female owned makes Double Denim "outrageously unusual", says Meyer. But their time has come, and it's galvanising entrepreneurial women inspired by Double Denim's example.

"The impact is showing, not telling – and demonstrating you can do it."

Full list of the 2018 Women of Influence finalists:

ARTS & CULTURE 

Deborah McCormick - Executive Director, SCAPE Public Art Trust
Gillian Bibby - Composer-Pianist
Miranda Harcourt - Performance Consultant, Rata Studios
Nicola Marshall - Executive Director, Square Eyes Film Foundation
Professor Lydia Wevers - Emeritus, Victoria University of Wellington
Steff Green - Author

BOARD & MANAGEMENT 

Dr Farah Palmer - Board member, NZ Rugby and SportNZ / Chair, NZ Maori Rugby Board / Senior Lecturer, Massey University 
Dr Lucy Baragwanath  - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Engagement), Victoria University of Wellington
Heather Walton - Principal, Ray White Epsom
Jane Wrightson - Chief Executive, NZ On Air
Joanna Pidgeon - Partner of Pidgeon Law, President of Auckland District Law Society, and Deputy Chair Auckland City Mission
Lani Evans - Head of Foundation, Vodafone Foundation, Chairperson, Thankyou Payroll, and Trustee and Founder, Thankyou Charitable Trust
Lara Ariell - CFO, Inland Revenue
Professor Rawinia Higgins - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori), Victoria University of Wellington
Susan Freeman-Greene - Chief Executive, Engineering New Zealand

BUSINESS ENTERPRISE

Alliv Samson - Co-Founder and COO, Kami Limited
Angela Meyer - Co-Founder and Co-Director, Double Denim Ltd
Angie Judge - Chief Executive, Dexibit
Anna Guenther - Founder and Chief Bubble Blower, PledgeMe
Eleanor Bodger - Director, Eldernet Limited
Greer O'Donnell - Director, The Urban Advisory
Jody Hamilton  - Director, JMP Consulting
Kerry Jackson - Founder and Creative Director, MM Linen
Lillian Grace - CEO, Figure.NZ
Lisa King - Founder and Director, Eat My Lunch


COMMUNITY & NOT FOR PROFIT 

Dr Mahsa Mohaghegh - Founder and Director, SheSharp and Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology
Jackie Clark - Aunty in charge, The Aunties
Jana Nee - Project Manager / Youth Worker, Te whānau o waipareira Trust
Jenn Hooper - Founder and Spokesperson, Changing Places NZ, Action to Improve Maternity Trust and Charley Supports Ltd
Julia Hartshorne - Founder and Trustee, Achieve2B Trust
Karla Sanders - CEO, Sticks 'n Stones
Leanne Hegan - Trustee, Guardian Angels
Lorraine Taylor - CEO, Variety - The Children's Charity
Merenia Donne - Charity Founder and Board Member, Kotuku Foundation Assistance Animals Aotearoa
Natasha Takutaimoana Kemp - CEO, Te Kaha o Te Rangatahi Trust
Ruth Money - Private Victim Advocate and Volunteer Advocate
Season-Mary Downs - Director, Tukau Law and Kaiwhakahaere, Tukau Community and Clothing
Sheryl Connell - Chairperson, Houhanga Rongo Trust
Stephanie Clare - Chief Executive, Age Concern New Zealand
Zoe Lawton - Legal Researcher, Ministry of Justice

DIVERSITY

Dr Negar Partow - Senior Lecturer, Massey University
Naomi Manu - Director, Māori Student Success, Massey University
Sarah Lang - Project Director, Infrastructure New Zealand
Sheree Carey - CEO, Southland Chamber of Commerce
Shila Nair - Senior Advisor / Counsellor, Shakti Community Council Inc.
Sophie Pascoe - Paralympic Swimmer    
Steph Dyhrberg - Partner, Dyhrberg Drayton Employment Law
Victoria Lessing - Co-Director / NZ Sign Language Specialist, Merge NZ

GLOBAL

Amanda Santos - CEO, Tekron International
Cassandra Treadwell - CEO and Founder, So They Can
Samantha Rae Jones - Founder and CEO, Little Yellow Bird
Sarah Vrede - Recently Director, Financial Operations and Head of New Zealand Debt Management Office, The Treasury
Shahed Abu Jwaied - Founder and CEO, Integrate Women International
Yvonne Simpson - Immediate Past President, Soroptimist International
Ziena Jalil - Director - Business, Asia New Zealand

INNOVATION & SCIENCE 

Dr Kosala Gunawardane - Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology
Dr Yvonne Anderson - Paediatrician, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland
Ezel Kokcu - CEO, Passphere
Kristen Lunman - Innovation Director, Kiwi Wealth
Kylie Price - Head of Research Technology, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research
Professor Julia Rucklidge - Professor of Psychology, University of Canterbury
Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee - Professor and Director, The University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research
Professor Penny Brothers - Professor of Chemistry, University of Auckland
Professor Wendy Larner - Provost, Victoria University of Wellington

PUBLIC POLICY 

Charlotte Korte - Co-Leader, Mesh Down Under
Gael Surgenor - Director of Community & Social Innovation, Auckland Council
Hazel Heal - Law student, Otago University and Team Lead, Hep C Action Aotearoa
Helene Quilter - Secretary of Defence, Ministry of Defence
Keriana Brooking - Deputy Director Service Commissioning, Ministry of Health
Louise Harris - Executive Advisor, New Zealand Transport Agency
Sonia Wilson - Manager - Youth Justice, Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children
Victoria Manning - General Manager-Strategy, Deaf Aotearoa and Chairperson, New Zealand Sign Language Board

RURAL

Kimberly Crewther - Executive Director, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand
Rebecca Keoghan - General Manager / Director, Westland Milk Products & Pamu Academy
Sarah Perriam - Co-Host & Producer on Rural Exchange on RadioLIVE, MediaWorks & Perriam Media

YOUNG LEADER

Ashleigh Smith - Founding Member and Chairperson, Sticks 'n Stones
Brittany Cosgrove - Founder, NopeSisters Clothing
Iri Edwards - First Year Student Representative     
Jacinta Gulasekharam - Co-Founder, Dignity
Maddison McQueen-Davies - Founder & Facilitator, Share a Pair
Mahrukh Sarwar - President, University of Auckland Muslim Students Association
Paige Sullivan - Chairperson, Selwyn Youth Council
Poppy Norton - Co-Founder, Collaborate

* Winners will be announced on September 18 at the Awards Dinner at SKYCITY in Auckland. For tickets and more information about the Women of Influence Forum visit www.womenofinfluence.co.nz


Sunday Star Times