18 May Wāhine at the Board Table
You might not realise this, but Boards of Directors have a significant influence on our daily lives. They help companies grow or downsize, make decisions on company direction and focus, and advise on company operations through their relationship with the executive team.
With such an impact on the businesses that make up our economy and touch our lives, it would make sense that you would want the members of these Boards to be representative of New Zealand in general, right? Unfortunately, New Zealand Boards don’t have a very good track record on diversity and representation. In fact, in 2018 Global Women reported that 50% of listed companies in New Zealand had no women or just one woman on their Boards; a full 18% had no women on their Boards at all. This is an atrocious figure, far worse than the U.S. (2.6%), Australia (4.4 %), and India (6.6%). These numbers have improved slightly since 2018, but there is still a long way to go.
In addition to being unfair and unrepresentative, the lack of gender diversity on Boards can hurt businesses’ bottom lines. Having a meaningful number of women on Boards results in a more balanced approach and more inclusive products and services. In one famous practical example of the necessity of diversity in decision-making, the engineering team developing the first car airbag was all-male, and they designed the airbags and tests for the average male. In the early models, women and children were tragically killed or injured because they were not represented at an early stage in the design process.
According to the 2019 KPMG/WCD Thought Leadership Commission Report, gender-diverse Boards are more successful at retaining talent, more innovative, more honest (they report fewer instances of fraud), and have better corporate social responsibility performance. It is clear that decision-making and outcomes benefit when there are more women at the Board table.
If you are a member of a Board lacking in gender diversity, rather than just discussing the issue, make a firm commitment for change, and put a timeframe on it. Focus on filling the gaps in your Board instead of recruiting the same set of skills and personalities over and over again – this will help you to avoid groupthink.
If you are a woman interested in Board membership, I encourage you to reach out! There is increasingly better support out there for women who are already on or would like to join a Board.
There is no shortage of organisations out there committed to encouraging women in leadership roles. Here are just a few that we love:
- Women on Boards (a division of Governance NZ);
- Institute of Directors Mentoring for Diversity programme;
- Ministry for Women / Minitatanga mō ngā Wahine;
- Global Women;
- Lean In;
- Champions for Change;
- Professionelle; and
- The Young Woman (T.Y.W.) podcast.
For those of you looking for specific legal industry initiatives, please see the New Zealand Law Society’s ‘Women in the Legal Profession’ information.
In one of my previous articles, I shared my experience on not-for-profit Boards and encouraged those with legal skills to consider Board membership. You can read about my experience here. As always, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss gender diversity or to hear what it is like to be a woman Board member!