Women in Leadership Summit

Speeches
Thursday, July 30, 2015

Women in leadership summit 

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. 

I am absolutely delighted to be here.  

It is a privilege to open this Summit on Women in Leadership.

One of the best parts of my role as Minister for Women are the chances I get so often to share a room with so many talented women. And I’ve found myself in another one of these rooms this morning.

This event is a wonderful opportunity to share our successes and inspire all of us to take the next leadership step. 

I’d like to acknowledge the other speakers at the summit.

The purpose of this summit is to help you advance your careers and to hear and learn from other successful women leaders.

That is something I am one hundred percent behind.

In fact, getting more women into leadership is something that I am passionate about.

We NEED to talk about it, and we need to do more than just talk. We need to act.

I have four priorities as Minister for Women.  They are to encourage and develop women leaders, support more women and girls in education and training, utilise women’s skills and grow our economy, and ensure women and girls are free from violence.

I want all women in New Zealand to be able to make the most of every opportunity.

All New Zealand women should have equal rights, equal choice, equal opportunities, equal expectations and be valued equally.

As the first speaker of this Summit I’ve been asked to set the scene, to give you an overview of women in leadership, where we are heading, why it’s important to increase the number of women in leadership roles, and our plans to get there.

Setting the scene: recent changes in the landscape and how we have progressed

New Zealand has a huge pool of talented women.

Women are the majority of university graduates.

60 percent of university graduates in 2013 were women. 

Women are participating in the workforce more than ever before. Women’s employment rate last December was the highest we’ve ever seen at 60.3 percent. 
New Zealand has made great strides in encouraging women to take leadership roles. 

Take women on boards as an example.

Women now make up close to 42 per cent of ministerial appointees on state sector boards and committees.

Compare that to 12 per cent only 30 years ago in 1985, but we’ve made little progress in the last 10 years.

There are still too few women on boards for companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. But the good news is the numbers are heading in the right direction. 

Women make up around 14 per cent of appointees on these private sector boards, up from just five percent in 2003.

When we look at pay, we see the gender pay has also been reducing over time.  It is now 9.9 percent, as measured by median hourly earnings for both part-time as well as full-time workers.

Any gender pay gap is unacceptable.  But to address it we need action by many people at many levels.  

Employers, employees and employee groups, career advisors and business leaders all have a role, as well as government.

We can all make a difference. 

Why it is important for women to be in leadership roles? The business case for diversity and what this means in practice

There is a body of international evidence that shows gender balance in governance and leadership roles leads to better decision-making and organisational performance.

For instance, international consultancy McKinsey & Company found that Fortune 500 companies with three or more women on the board gain ‘a significant performance advantage’ over those with the fewest women.  These companies showed an additional 83 percent return on equity and 112 percent return on invested capital.

More women in leadership roles bring more diverse skills and experiences to the decision-making table.

So it is simply good business to seek gender balance in governance and leadership.   And more businesses here and overseas are getting serious about encouraging more women leaders.

Let’s think about those women with potential just waiting to be unlocked.  These are the women who have the skills, talent and drive to get to the top, and those who can inspire others along the way. 

Many women with potential leave paid work, or stall below senior leadership positions.  This ‘leaking talent pipeline’ is seen throughout the world and is a huge waste of potential.

We need to make sure that we are identifying and supporting future generations of women leaders and broadening our talent pipeline.

But it’s not just about leaders in business. Women leaders make an enormous contribution to our communities through roles in the community and voluntary sector too.
It matters for us as individual women that we can achieve our dreams and our potential.

But it also matters for New Zealand as a whole.

Better business performance leads to gains for the economy.

More resilient communities means NZ is a better place to live, work, play and raise our families.

Overcoming unconscious bias and barriers to equality

So we need to address the barriers that are stopping women reach their potential. 

We’ve all heard of the glass ceiling.

Some of you may have attended the seminars organised earlier this year with international researcher Alice Eagly.

Alice Eagly prefers to describe the glass ceiling as a glass labyrinth.  This is because she sees women facing a range of challenges throughout their careers rather than just one barrier to the top.

One Australian survey found that 93 per cent of respondents believed there are barriers to women’s equality in the workplace, while 51 per cent (primarily women) said they have been discriminated against on the basis of gender. 

There are three main reasons why women ‘drop out’ of the leadership pipeline.

One reason is unconscious bias – assumptions about leadership and behaviour that penalise women in the workforce.

Research from Harvard, Yale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology tells us that unconscious bias and other implicit processes have a significant effect on our everyday decision-making abilities in the workplace and, in particular, in our interactions with diverse groups

Unconscious bias includes the assumptions that we can all make when we think fast rather than carefully.

If we want the best people we need to select on skills, not assumptions.

One such assumption is that men and women may differ in terms of ambition.

In fact, men and women have similar levels of ambition although women tend to have different definitions of success. 

A second barrier is managing re-entry to the workforce following career breaks.

Women face challenges when re-entering the workforce after taking career breaks to provide primary caregiving for children or elderly parents.  

Research by global workplace placement company Kronos in 2013 confirmed that employer attitudes to breaks in traditional employment pathways can make it difficult for women to re-enter the workforce and to maintain an upward career.

Supporting parents returning to work after breaks helps women keep their career on track.

And the third barrier was a lack of flexible work options that accommodate women’s career progression. 

The best organisations make flexible work normal for everyone – many men want a better work-life balance too. 

Public and private sector employers can do more to encourage and empower women to make the most of their potential.

However, we have learnt how organisations successfully address barriers to women’s leadership, based on the experience of organisations like the Male Champions of Change in Australia. On the programme tomorrow I see some of our own male champions of change.

We know that organisations need to lead from the top to be successful at encouraging women leaders.

Change happens when leaders are personally committed to change.

Successful organisations measure what’s happening for women inside the organisation, and they use those measures to drive for change. 

I congratulate companies such as Sovereign whose CEO Symon Brewis-Weston has become one of only five CEOs around the world to be recognised in 2015 by the United Nations (UN) for his progressive approach to workplace diversity and community engagement. 

Over the past two years, this organisation has re-set its organisational structures introducing innovative leadership training and championing flexible working hours.

I understand the gender pay gap inside Sovereign is now sitting at four percent, and women’s participation on the executive leadership team was 45% in 2014, up from 18% in 2010. 

The BNZ is another example of a business that has taken on the challenge.

The BNZ executive team has made gender equity within their organisation a  strategic objective, and agreed a strategy to work towards equal opportunity for all its women employees.
Successful organisations also address unconscious bias.

For instance, the New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Defence Force are training their staff on how to recognise and prevent unconscious bias.

All leaders across the Defence Force are undergoing this training.

The New Zealand Police are now promoting a 50:50 recruitment policy.

Using open recruitment tools such as advertising and employment agencies can reduce unconscious and conscious bias in an organisation, based on an analysis of over 100 companies in Australia. 

Providing real opportunities for women matters too.

Proctor and Gamble found that providing women employees with appropriately demanding assignments improved its overall retention and increased the number of women in senior management positions. 

We recognise these measures are not easy for all organisations. 

In the public sector, the Ministry for Women is working with the State Services Commission to increase women’s progression in public service leadership.  

More diverse leadership, including more women leaders, means a public service that is more innovative and makes better decisions. 

What is the Ministry for Women doing to support and encourage women leaders?

The Government’s goal is to have women make up 45 per cent of state sector boards. 

We are committed to directly assisting appointing agencies in Government in growing the number of women on state sector boards and committees.

And one of my priority areas is to encourage and develop aspiring young women leaders in New Zealand. 

With the help of the Ministry for Women, I want to support and develop our  pool of women leaders.

I want to encourage them to take the next step in their careers and leadership roles, inspire others along the way and become role models for the next generation.  

I particularly want to focus on women in their mid-career years. 

These years are often critical in building careers and raising leadership potential. This is often the time when women have other roles and responsibilities. 

Women need access to information about their career paths and opportunities to talk to their managers and mentors about the next steps.

The Ministry for Women has talked to some of our future women leaders.  They have told us what they need to help them to succeed. 

They want more mentoring and sponsoring; they want to address unconscious bias and to have flexibility in their working life.

Reflections on leadership: Defining the attributes of the leaders of tomorrow

Let’s think about the leadership skills needed now and for the future.

The Women of Influence Awards recognise women leaders who are helping New Zealand work towards a bold and diverse future. They are looking for leaders who are working towards change every day, committing their time and energy to helping and encouraging other women in their fields, and having an impact well beyond their formal roles at the local, regional and national levels.

A 2012 study by IBM of chief executive officers across 64 countries showed that leaders around the world are facing more complexity.  Their response is to try to create more open and collaborative cultures.

Women leaders are well-placed to meet these challenges.

Alice Eagly has identified that women display more democratic and participative leadership behaviors than men. 

Women are therefore more likely to be well-suited to managing organisations that want to engage and develop employees, and to build successful partnerships with others.

So if you are an aspiring women leader, think of the attributes and qualities you need to achieve in your career and to be the greatest leader you can be.

Be confident and know your worth.  Research shows that sometimes women can play down their attributes or lack confidence in negotiation situations.

Think about the roles that you take on.

Research for Credit Suisse has identified that line management roles, where you are responsible for the businesses’ profit and loss, are more likely to lead to the top than business support management roles where you manage HR or communications functions.

Men are more likely to have sponsors than women.  In the United Kingdom, senior male employees are 50 percent more likely to have a sponsor than female employees.

Seek out a sponsor, mentor and other networking opportunities to support your career.

I challenge you and I invite you to apply what you hear to yourself, to your businesses and to the women around you.

If you are a manager or in business then I have a challenge that I want to offer to you today.

What can you do to increase women’s leadership in New Zealand?

Ask the women you work with if they have a plan. If they want to take a step up ask what is stopping them.

Share the steps you took and how you overcame obstacles along the way.

Be a sponsor. Sponsors open doors to opportunities and advancement. 

Show your support for women and back them.

Think about yourself as a role model. Women should be proud to be visible role models for other women.

We need this because it is about building great leaders.

I’m sure that you will hear more about what you can do over the next two days of this Summit.

I thank you for this opportunity.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.