Kiwi businesswomen urged to look overseas for leadership strategies

08 February 2012

New Zealand women are still grossly under-represented on governance boards and management teams, and should now adopt the strategies of female colleagues in other countries in order to make their mark, a commercial law professor says.

Professor Susan Watson, of The University of Auckland Business School’s Department of Commercial Law, says this country’s boards of governance are still top-heavy with retirement-age men, and senior roles are still difficult for Kiwi women to achieve.

However, advances in the representation of women on boards internationally is improving with special initiatives to shatter the "glass ceiling", the unbreachable barrier that keeps women and minorities from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of qualifications or achievements.

And Professor Watson says the visit to New Zealand in February by a leading American legal commentator on women’s representation on boards will be a valuable opportunity for Kiwi women to learn how they can be successfully appointed or promoted to senior roles.

“We know that inequality in the workforce is a major issue for New Zealand, and it is imperative that steps are taken now to ensure female voices are heard around board tables and in management meetings,” Professor Watson says.

Professor Douglas Branson, who holds the W Edward Sell Chair in Business Law at the University of Pittsburgh, will be the key note speaker at a New Zealand Governance Centre conference titled Diversity on Boards, which will be held at the Business School on February 10.

He will highlight arguments in favour of women holding senior positions, before setting out initiatives used internationally to get women on boards, Professor Watson says. The author of two books that highlight the position and challenges for women to aspire to senior management positions, Professor Branson will also discuss women chief executives in the United States, particularly outlining strategies that have led to their success.

“What we are predicting will be of particular interest and help will be Professor Branson’s no-holds-barred advice to women about how they can be appointed or promoted to senior roles,” Professor Watson says.

“This address will be of relevance and interest to individuals and organisations which are involved in governance, and to women who are in – or aspire to be in – senior positions. It is a rare chance to hear from an international expert on governance, who can pass on advice that could make a real difference.”

Professor Branson’s two books are No Seat at the Table – How governance and law keep women out of the boardroom (NYU Press, 2007) and The last male bastion – gender and the CEO suite at America’s Public Companies (Routledge Press, 2010).

Further information on the conference can be found at the New Zealand Governance Centre's website.