During my recent trip to New Zealand, Jennifer, a senior HR executive said, “The U.S. is definitely ahead of where we are as far as women in senior leadership and business." And her comment is typical. Not long ago the NZ Census of Women’s Participation wrote,
"The corporate sector remains an embarrassment for New Zealand in terms of diversity of governance, at a time when women are increasingly consumers, customers, clients, employers, employees and investors," the report says…It is perplexing that boardroom doors are shut to women at a time when global business requires transformation."
When I talked with businesswomen in New Zealand they told me that women in the U.S. are ahead of them in terms of access to senior positions. This raised for me this interesting question, how did the country that was first in giving women the vote not rocket ahead on women in business? It’s especially intriguing because the nation has twice elected women to the position of prime minister.
Through the efforts of Kate Sheppard (image above), New Zealand became the first self-governing country to give women the vote. It happened in 1893! Approximately 100 years later, the nation was led by two women - from 1997 when Jennifer Mary Shipley was elected as Prime Minister until November 2008 when Helen Clark stepped down. In the early 21st century New Zealand women have held other of the country’s key constitutional positions: governor-general, speaker of the House of Representatives, attorney-general and chief justice.
Today, the idea that women could not or should not be active in government is completely foreign to New Zealanders. In 2012, 32% of Members of Parliament are female, compared with 17% in today’s U.S. congress.
While they're far ahead of the U.S. in political representation, only 9.3% of companies listed on the NZX have women on their boards. That’s not the percentage of women on boards, it’s the percent of companies with women on their boards!
As a contrast, nearly 85% of FORTUNE companies have women on their boards. A group of women (25%) and men who are high level corporate leaders have banded together in a bid to increase this number to 25 per cent by the end of 2015.
Women in each country have much to teach and much to learn about representation in positions of power.