New Zealanders yet to harness power of women

Venkat Raman – 

Notwithstanding the fact that New Zealand was the first country in the world to accord women franchise and despite the impressive record of their participation in the country’s polity, modern New Zealanders are yet to harness the ‘real power’ of women and provide them equal opportunities in the decision-making process.

That is the gist of the deliberations of the Fifth Annual Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture held on Monday, July 27, 2015 at Pullman Hotel Auckland which underlined the ‘Role of Women in Governance.’

A large section of the audience, comprising about 350 people, among who were politicians, government officials, barristers, lawyers, accountants, corporate leaders and others, agreed that women in New Zealand were yet to be accorded their rightful place on boards, governance roles and others areas where they have expertise and qualifications.

Jan Dawson, Chairperson, Westpac and Deputy Chairperson, Air New Zealand was the Guest Speaker, while Dr Susan Macken, BNZ Director and Member of the Treasury was the Master of ceremonies, with Wendy Palmer, Chief Executive, Media Works Radio providing insights into the Role of Women in Media and Ranjna Patel, Director, East Tamaki Health Care and Bank of Baroda providing her Reflections on the proceedings.

Gross underutilisation

Former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand quoted the findings of a Report on Women’s Participation in Governance and Public Life (Details appear under Homelink).

According to him, the Report revealed “a chronic underutilisation of women’s skills and talents in governance as members of boards of top companies in the private corporate sector. Crown companies fared better but it was hoped that “business leaders will be encouraged to think differently about future appointments.”

The proper focus is on another aspect related to good governance in our country, he said.

“The values we consider important in life are not any birth right. They are grounded in the values of those who have preceded us, formed and shaped through education and through interactions with peers, colleagues and role models,” Sir Anand said.

An ideal mix

Ms Dawson said that New Zealand has provided families with ‘wonderful opportunities’ to have a good work-life balance.

“This is the ideal mix for women trying to raise families alongside pursuing professional growth. But the issue at hand is whether this provision is being optimised. The NZX mentioned in its latest report that the share of women in senior management positions was only 14%. Although this represented an increase of 2% over the previous year’s figures, much more needs to be done to achieve gender equality,” she said.

“Women are just one part of this diversity jigsaw puzzle. In a commercial environment, the benefits of diversity are not simply ‘face value’, or a marketing ploy designed to get consumers to identify with us.

“The real gains come from the diversity of thought by bringing together people with a range of talents, experience and different points of view. If we want to foster innovation then we need to draw on those who come at problems from a different perspective,” she said.

Public debates

Ms Dawson said that these are quite different drivers from the politics of representation, which often dominate debates in the public sector.

Those debates inevitably focus on the fact that women and members of ethnic minorities tend to be under-represented at senior levels of decision-making.

Advocates argue that candidates should be selected who reflect the diverse nature of the electorate to drive greater and deeper participation in our democracy.

That is a valid argument, but tends to overemphasise diversity as an end in itself.

In the commercial world, the drivers are clear – diversity is an important tool in achieving the best possible business results.

However, in both the private and public sectors, the challenge is how to ensure that our companies and institutions are tapping in to the widest possible pool of talent, thereby creating the best conditions for success.

Inspiring women

Earlier, welcoming the guests, Indian Newslink Limited Managing Director Jacob Mannothra said that the subject of this year’s Lecture was timely and that it is vital for New Zealand’s continued progress as a multicultural country promoting gender equality and diversity.

“We have instituted this Lecture series as a focal point for Good Governance, which is imperative to our success as business people, organisations and as individuals. I am sure this Lecture will inspire all of us especially the women to achieve against all odds,” he said.

The picture (by Narendra Bedekar) shows seated (from left) Wendy Palmer, Dr Susan Macken, Winston Peters, Lady Susan Satyanand, Sir Anand, Jan Dawson and Phil Goff; Standing (from left) Dr Parmjeet Parmar, Jenny Salesa, Mahesh Bindra, Prakashni Khan, Robert Khan, Jacob Mannothra, V Giridharan, Usha Giridharan and Ranjna Patel

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