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Grant Thornton on gender diverse leadership: "NZ has hit rock bottom"

09 Mar 2018

While businesses around the world take one step forward and one step back on getting more women into leadership roles, New Zealand has taken two firm steps back.

That’s according to accounting and consultancy firm Grant Thornton that blasts New Zealand’s “discouraging” business landscape, saying the state of gender balance in senior leadership roles has “hit rock bottom.”

Globally, significantly more businesses surveyed (75% in 2018 v 66% in 2017) now have at least one woman on their senior management teams, but the proportion of the team that is female has slipped from 25% to 24%, the firm highlighted in its annual Women in Business report.

Regarding the number of women in senior leadership roles, the data shows New Zealand has hit an all-time low of 18% since the report began in 2004 (31%), compared to 20% in 2017.

Even bleaker is the firm’s data on the number of businesses with no women at all in senior management roles – 56%, a jump from 37% last year.

Grant Thornton New Zealand partner Stacey Davies says last year the report revealed a sense of complacency, that the “issue” has plateaued and the diversity challenge has been dealt with.

“In 2015 when the proportion of women in senior management roles dropped significantly from 31% to 19%, we hoped this was a “blip” and we would see positive change in the coming years."

“We now have a four year average of 19% which suggests this is our new norm, and it’s really not good enough."

Davies adds, “Once upon a time, our global standing was among the top 10 countries surveyed – we are now ranked 33 out of 35 countries; clearly the challenge hasn’t been dealt with in New Zealand.”

Additionally, Davies highlights the evidence of a link between gender diversity in leadership and commercial success.

“The current volatility in the global economy and ongoing technological innovation and disruption makes the issue more important than ever.”

Policy can’t drive progress alone

Grant Thornton’s report shows that introducing policies alone is not enough to drive real progress.

Data shows gender equality policies are abundant and widespread throughout the country, with 80% of businesses surveyed adopting equal pay for men and women performing the same roles, and 78% implementing non-discrimination policies for recruitment.

Measures that support working parents are also popular among businesses, including remote working (74% – which is high compared to the global figure of 40%), paid parental leave (68%) and part time work (66%).

However, there is no clear correlation between which, and how many, policies businesses have in place and the gender diversity of their senior management teams.

No single policy seems to drive gender diversity, the report concludes.

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Recruitment and retention are strategic priorities for businesses, and gender equality in leadership has become a core element of company branding. 62% of companies say they are motivated to introduce gender equality policies primarily to attract.
  • Businesses say the barriers to introducing policies include the complexity of translating good intentions into practice (28%) and a business culture unsupportive of diversity (24%).

Davies says the report findings could suggest businesses are concentrating on box-ticking, rather than actual, tangible progress.

“Without meaningful behaviour changes at all levels of a business, no progress can be made towards creating a real gender balance regardless of policies that are in place.”

“The tone has to be set from the top; leaders are the only ones who can really press for progress, and they can do this by actively championing the cause to create inclusive cultures where every individual has an equal opportunity to flourish.”

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