When it comes to appointments to boards and senior
management roles in New Zealand, Helen Darling says it is
about the best person for the job.
Dr Darling was surprised by recent research from
accounting and consultancy firm Grant Thornton that said the
''glass ceiling'' women must push through to gain such roles
appeared to be getting thicker and more difficult to penetrate.
In the past 10 years, the proportion of senior roles filled
by women had not changed from 31%, against a global average
that had increased from 19% to 24%, Grant Thornton New
Zealand partner Stacey Davies said.
''In 2004, New Zealand was ranked fourth in the world of the
countries surveyed, whereas now we are 15th - that's a big
fall. Whereas once we were world leaders, we are now
followers and looking likely to fall further behind, going by
other indicators in the survey.''
The number of businesses with no women in senior management
roles had increased from 26% in 2012 to 32% in 2014, going
against the global trend, where there had been a slight
decrease from 34% to 33%.
Dr Darling, of Darling and Associates, which provides a
bespoke service for food producers, exporters, importers and
regulators, is on the boards of the Institute of
Environmental Science and Research and Export New Zealand.
She was ''really surprised'' by the research findings and did
not believe the situation was as dire as the report made out.
The more innovative and forward-thinking companies and
organisations had diverse boards and understood that
diversity was the way to be progressive and succeed.
Those that were not open to that were possibly the ones that
did not have a sustainable future, she said.
It had to be an equal playing field, regardless of sex,
gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs.
''I find it a little bit hard to believe, to be honest, we
have gone that far backwards. My experience has been it's the
best person for the job,'' Dr Darling said.
Agri Women's Development Trust founder and 2013 Next Business
Woman of the Year Lindy Nelson said when applying the
research in the agrisector, it needed to be looked at
carefully, and she questioned what constituted senior
''Some of our farming businesses which are run by women as
critical farming partners are larger than some of the
businesses that could be surveyed here,'' she said.
Many of the female directors within the agrisector sought
positions through election.
''So what does this say? Maybe we have come of age and
recognise skills and competencies rather than gender? I
believe this is happening,'' she said.
Most women she spoke to were not in favour of a quota system.
While they wanted the ''tools'' and development
opportunities, they wanted to ''earn a place at a table'',
not be given it.
''However, we do need to change our lenses on where we seek
and find talent and sometimes women can be invisible in these
searches,'' she said.
Mrs Nelson cited Chorus, when it developed its new board, as
a good example.
''Instead of doing the `who knows who' system, they looked
outside of their networks and looked purely for skills and
talent, gender exclusive. This actually resulted in a very
What the AWDT was doing was giving women ''the development
and wherewithal'' to step up within the sphere of leadership
business and governance, using supported growth, programmes,
networks, coaching and mentoring.
Confidence was ''big'' for women and the trust's programmes
were successful in moving women ''up the pipeline''.
That success could be instantaneous but it could also take
time and it needed to be done partnering with men, not
excluding them, Mrs Nelson said.
For the trust, it was about giving the support and the tools
and ''they'll participate if they want'', she said.
Sometimes, women were not necessarily visible but were hugely
Mrs Nelson believed women would be pivotal in achieving the
Government's target of doubling primary exports by 2025.