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Its time to shatter the Glass Network


Its time to shatter the Glass Network

New Zealand was once a leader in social change, but judging by the makeup of our boardrooms today, we are losing the pace and falling behind. As well as being the first country in the world to give women the vote, as early as 1898-1899 New Zealand lead the international accounting world by making a major decision that allowed women like men to sit an entry examination for the profession, the one proviso was that they were not pregnant at the time.  Australia followed suite - a year later.

Yet in boardrooms today, we have lost the momentum created by our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and representation of women is falling well behind that of other countries.  Why it is that in New Zealand only 10 per cent of board members serving on the top 100 companies are women? Compare this to Norway where 44 per cent of board members are women; Sweden, where 22 per cent are women and Spain where 20 per cent are women.

Rather than talking about the glass ceiling – a blockage halting the way to the top in governance terms - there appears to be a glass network (previous referred to in terms of the old boys network) that is limiting women’s ability to get themselves in front of interviewing panels.  One suggestion put forward has been to introduce a quota system whereby organisations are required to increase the number of women on their boards within a given timeframe.  But is that the answer?

Selecting a board member should be competency/experienced based, and in some cases it is.  However the days of hearing from a trusted colleague about someone who may demonstrate the desired competency shouldn’t be the only route.  Boards need to continually reflect a competency mix akin to the strategic intent of the organisations they’re linked to.  They should also have a plan for rotating directors.

A nominations committee is a good step forward.  This allows its members to begin searching well in advance for people who not only bring a fresh perspective to the decision-making table, but who also have the ability to critique propositions and complement, rather than duplicate, current competencies.  There is some truth in the saying Women are from Venus Men are from Mars.  Women often view things from a different perceptive than men and that’s a good thing in the boardroom – it strengthens the critical thinking process, which is a key board function.     

Rather than a quota system, the answer could be relatively simple. Get your Nomination Committee to search a little harder and wider by first completing a competency exercise, and then actively seek likely candidates. In doing this the board needs to acknowledge the need for diversity, fresh thinking, and the need to expand the pool of available directors by mentoring the new ones in their first few months of service.  Women also need to expand their range of influence, to stand up and be counted, to ensure they put themselves forward, and to accept the knocks that come with the appointment process. 

It would be good to see New Zealand lead the world again with its social initiatives, and governance is one arena where we can.  We have a talented pool of women wanting to make a difference in boardrooms – so let’s acknowledge them, engage them, and in doing so take our place once again as leaders in the field of women’s rights, but this time in the boardroom.