Monday, November 12, 2012

Women on Boards

There is still a glass ceiling when it comes to having women on boards of New Zealand publicly listed companies.  (And I suspect many other countries)

Only one in twelve people on our boards are women.  This is the average number onr all the  NZ Stock Exchange Boards and there appears to be little that can be done to change the reluctance of existing Boards to open their doors to women.   There are some exceptions, but not enough.

This reluctance is not based on fact or the good govenance. It appears to be an Old Boys Club.  Research has shown that companies with women members do better than those without women - so one would think that shareholders would start voting by selling shares with men only boards.  

Recently I put my name forward for a Board of one of our listed companies.    I offered  my knowledge of the working of boards.   I have been on many boards, am chair of two not for profit Boards.  Have been CEO for two companies run by boards (for 9 years each) and been a senior manager for another Board for 9 years.   My Masters degree and my specialist knowledge of cultural well-being and consumer cultures were also not attractive.   The existing Chair wanted an accountant with financial knowledge - a man.    The fact that I have extensive financial knowledge also didn't count.

I was asked to address the annual meeting as I had provided a formal nomination by existing shareholders.  I took up the offer to speak.    

I had been told that the Chair would not be voting for me and he would exercise ALL his proxies unless they indicated differently, to vote for the accountant/ financial manager.    

I think he was surprise that I am an experienced public speaker.    I talked about women in New Zealand getting the vote in 1893, Women being Mayors, Politicians and being on and Chairs of Not for Profit organisations.  I noted the number of VERY important people who were stressing the need for women on boards.   Then I took the Annual Meeting on a voyage through the current global financial crisis and the two social movement - Wall Street coming down to Main Street, and the Women on Boards movement.

The moves to social interaction and changes in global communication.    I then told them why they should vote for me.

There was a lot of support at the meeting, but it was not worth counting the votes and proxies.  The Chair had the majority.     It is sad - but I will put my name forward again next year and every year until a women or two are appointed.

It has been interesting watching the Obama win in United States and I was watching the Men of the Republican Party totally surprised that they had lost.   The Republican men looked as if they were in different era. 

I read the Annual Reports of many of our companies and look at the photos of Boards - all or almost all those in the photos are white older men - no diversity and no women or only one. 

I am sure this is not restricted to New Zealand, I don't want a quota, but I do think something will need to be done, if only so that these companies can change their business models. 

In the same way as the Republicans are now realising that maybe the have to change, it is also  time this male dominance of Boards to change.     

There are many women with skills and experience that could make our businesses more innovative and more customer friendly.

Women must continue to put their names forward.   Maybe there will be change.  Lets hope that change doesn't take another decade.

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