The Timaru Herald
Slow to get on board
There are now more women on governance boards, but corporate leadership remains mostly white. Michelle Duff reports.
Their eyes met across a crowded room. Among the sea of faces at the Canterbury governance event, the gaze that passed between Sina Cotter-Tait and Elle Archer was one of recognition.
‘‘We were the only two brown people there, and we spotted each other and we haven’t left each other since,’’ says Archer, a senior geospatial technologist and company director.
’’I always say, ‘Sis, I’ll stand to the side of you, I’ll stand to the back of you, I’ll stand in front of you, whatever you need.’ We have to empower each other to do this.’’
Archer, who is Ma¯ ori, and Cotter-Tait, an engineer of Samoan descent who also sits on multiple boards, are now firm friends and each other’s support crew. As minorities in governance, they know how hard it can be to get into the boardroom, let alone change the status quo.
They’ve recently begun visiting low-decile schools, teaching students how to carve out their place as leaders. That’s on top of Cotter-Tait’s work with the Pasifika Trustees Network, an organisation that supports Pasifika parents to sit on their schools’ boards of trustees.
‘‘For a lot of people, the pathway to governance starts on school boards,’’ Cotter-Tait, who was named Emerging Governance Leader in the Women in Governance awards on Thursday, says. Yet of more than 1000 trustees elected every three years, only 15 are Pasifika.
‘‘Pasifika parents often lack the self-belief [that] it’s a place they belong, and don’t put themselves forward. Once you’re in there, if you’re the only person of Pasifika or Ma¯ ori heritage, that will be an isolating experience, too.’’
Since the Government committed to a target of 50 per cent of women on state sector boards in 2018, there is increasing recognition of the importance of diversity in leadership. This week, a study co-authored by Otago University’s Dr Helen Roberts underscored the ‘‘trickle-down’’ impact of women on boards – a critical mass of two or more, or around a fifth of the board, can improve gender equality in an entire organisation.
Yet when corporates talk about ‘‘diversity’’, they have not been talking about race. Boardrooms are still overwhelmingly white – it’s just that now, there are more white women.
Last year, the Government
reached its 50 per cent target. But in 2019, the first year it counted ethnicity in its annual gender stocktake, it found the makeup was 21.2 per cent Ma¯ ori, 4.6 per cent Pasifika, 3.6 per cent Asian and less than 1 per cent other ethnicities.
‘‘We are doing fantastic when it comes to gender generally, but when you look within it, it’s a replication of Pa¯ keha democracy and privilege,’’ Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo says. ‘‘I think now we are ready to look at other aspects of diversity.
‘‘Even within the bracket of ‘women’ there’s huge inequities, and huge inequalities. Lifting the average is not enough.’’
Ahead of the release of the latest figures, Sumeo is calling for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to support ethnicity targets for state sector boards.
And she wants the NZX to require its publicly listed companies to begin reporting on the ethnicity of their directors, alongside the gender reporting that already exists. Private companies should set their own targets, and recruit talent that represents the communities they serve.
‘Idetect a certain anxiety when I talk about closing the ethnic pay gap and moving women of colour up the ladder,’’ Sumeo says.
‘‘This is not about leaving anyone behind, this is about setting targets that force businesses to think: ‘How do we attract the talent, how do we retain the talent, and how do we help women of colour through the ranks? I still hear people saying they can’t find anyone, and I find that hard to believe.’’
Businesswoman and author Rachel Petero says she’s seen this attitude time and again on recruitment panels. ‘‘A lot of times I’ve turned up and they’re all Pa¯ keha, men predominantly, and what does that say to me? I might not feel safe in this because I’m not seeing myself right from the outset.’’
She says it can be difficult for Ma¯ ori women to back themselves.
‘‘I see so much, ‘Oh I’m not going to go for that because I don’t tick every single box,’ but no-one ticks every single box, and men don’t worry about that. We need to be more courageous and bold, because we do have what boards are looking for – a different lens.’’
The gender pay gap overall is 9.5 per cent. But for Pasifika women compared with Pa¯ keha¯ men, it’s 27 per cent. Sumeo wants to see a firm plan from the Government to address this, which would include staircasing women of colour into leadership.
‘‘We need to pull these women up if we want to have any hope of closing the gap. Some leaders are very, very focused on gender, like that’s going to solve everything. Well, it won’t.’’
Measuring matters, she says. The NZX stock exchange requires listed companies to provide gender breakdowns of their boards, while Champions for Change, a grouping which almost 40 companies have voluntarily joined, has set and achieved a 40 per cent gender target.
Progress has been glacial, but it is happening. Women now make up around 28 per cent of boards on NZX-listed companies. There are two women chief executives in the NZX top 100 – Sky TV’s Sophie Moloney, and Spark’s Jolie Hodson.
Champions for Change cochair Justine Smyth is also chair of Spark. When Stuff calls, she takes a moment. ‘‘I can hear my earring, I’m just going to take it out, hang on,’’ she says.
It’s the third year the organisation has been reporting gender data, and last year it began reporting ethnicity.
All its companies have to collect it – a task that’s not always easy, she says. ‘‘It’s not compulsory to provide it, and people in the organisation often feel like ‘Why do you need it?’ There has to be an inclusive culture to begin with, so people feel safe ticking certain boxes.’’
One of the group’s aims is to increase Ma¯ ori and ethnic leadership. It will focus on collecting and recording data correctly before considering targets. ‘‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’’
Dr Helen Roberts, who had to analyse Australian data for her study into the impacts of gender as New Zealand had none, agrees. ‘‘There’s no transparency here, and that’s where we need to start.’’
A spokesman for the NZX, David Glendining, says ethnicity data is not currently mandatory. ‘‘A broader consideration of diversity is encouraged, and for individual issuers to consider, but it is not prescriptive.’’
Minister for Women Jan Tinetti says if leadership better reflected the people of Aotearoa New Zealand, organisations would be more productive. ‘‘More diverse boards make better decisions.’’
The Government continues to make progress on gender and ethnic makeup of boards, she says.