16 May 2016

'The last bastion of chauvinism' in New Zealand Sport

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:23 pm on 16 May 2016

It has been labelled as '”the last bastion of chauvinism”' in New Zealand Sport  by Dr Judy McGregor from AUT.

The New Zealand Rugby board has been in existence for 124 years - and in all that time, there has never been a woman on the board.

But New Zealand Rugby Chairman Brent Impey is vowing to change the embarrassing situation.

Rugby players lock arms

Rugby players lock arms Photo: 123RF

He is a former lawyer and former CEO of MediaWorks, who has been the Chairman since June 2014.

He says that the union is keen to address the makeup of the national board and the provincial boards, and that gender, sexuality and ethnic diversity are all part of its focus.

Read an edited snapshot of Brent Impey’s talk with Jesse Mulligan

JESSE MULLIGAN: This is a pretty embarrassing situation, no women on the board and there have never been any women on the board. How do you view it?

BRENT IMPEY: Well best practise is to look at diversity on the board, we’re concentrating here on gender, but diversity does extend out to other areas, for example, there’s not a Pacific Islander on the board and there hasn’t been either. The challenge isn’t the desire to achieve it, the challenge is that we have quite a complex constitutional structure and so the board can’t just make these sorts of changes itself it needs the support of the provincial unions who are the stakeholders, or essentially the owners of the New Zealand Rugby union.

So I’ve gone out to say two things really. One is that we’ve got to have best practise and that does involve looking at this issue and being prepared to address it and secondly we need [The Provincial Unions’] assistance to get this over the line.

JM: A lot of the blokes you run into who run provincial unions you wouldn’t think of being at the forefront of gender politics. How are those conversations going?

BE: I think that’s a little bit unfair and is really a rather old view of it all. I mean rugby has become professional and as the sport had developed more modern skills have certainly come on to many of those provincial boards. Many of those boards have women on them. A couple of the franchises – namely the Hurricanes and The Crusaders have women on the board, so it’s not as anachronistic as you say. But it is a challenge. I mean there are no women who are chairs of provincial unions but there are a lot of very talented people in the [Pronvincial Unions]. So I think to say that it’s the last bastion of male chauvinism overstates it to quite a degree.

JM: What is the route to the board for a woman who wants to get there?

BE: Well there are two ways, the first way is that we have three appointed directors, so one comes up every year. And the criteria for that spot is to fill in skills gaps that aren’t necessarily on the board. For example, I come from a broadcasting background and television rights are a critical part of our revenue so therefore that is a skill I can bring to the board. We have had a number of women apply to come on to the board and some have got to the short list for that criteria, but none have made it.

The other six positions are elected – so they’re elected by the provincial union at the Annual General Meeting and we’ve never had a woman that’s been nominated through that process. This is why a call has gone out the provincial unions to consider this when they are looking for people to nominate to come on to our board.

JM: Can you tell me from your perspective what we would achieve by getting more women on the board?

BE: If you look at New Zealand Rugby in terms of the staff and the senior people in the running of the union there is a high number of women and Steve Tew continues to push hard in terms of gender diversity within his team. So we’re getting there in that regard.

What we’re talking about here is the governance of the organisation. I think there is likely to be down the track a commercial imperative as well, we work with Government in certain areas – for example, Sport New Zealand’s programme - and they too are sending out a mandate message which is to encourage sporting bodies to be prepared address this issue. It’s not one we can allow to just drift away, hence why I went on to the front foot to deal with it, get unions to come in and help us.

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