27 Nov 2012

More women on boards of NZ firms

8:34 am on 27 November 2012

The number of women on company boards has risen in the last two years but the increase has been criticised as too slow.

The latest Human Rights Commission's Census of Women's Participation shows the number of women directors on the country's top 100 listed companies rose from 9% to nearly 15%.

Ninety directorships are held by 69 women in 55 companies. Fourteen women have multiple directorships, up from 8 in 2010.

However, 45 companies in the top 100 have no women on the board which the commission says is unacceptable.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor says if the increase carries on at the same rate it will be another 35 years before there is gender equality on boards, which she says is not good enough.

She says the increase that has taken place has been influenced by companies that have a dual listing with the Australian stock exchange, which introduced gender diversity reporting rules earlier than New Zealand.

The NZX's Diversity Listing Rule that requires listed companies to disclose how many women they have on their boards and in senior management will be applied to annual reports with a balance date on or after 31 December this year.

She says New Zealand has a culture of "soft interventions" in corporate governance, while Europe has a quota system and the US a culture of affirmative action.

"New Zealand has always been quite antagonistic to the idea of quotas, and even to the idea of targets," she says.

Ms McGregor says that New Zealand's size and the "well-documented effect of an old boy's network" blocks greater female participation. "Male chairs very often select people like themselves."

She says New Zealand is the fifteenth country to introduce gender diversity reporting for listed companies, and the Government should be setting targets that aspire to equality.