All in a day's work

Employment lawyer Bridget Smith blogs on workplace and HR issues. Bridget is a senior associate at law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

All in a day's work: A woman's place?

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Outnumbered. Female board membership on NZX listed companies is less than 10 per cent, with only 4 in 100 having gender parity. Photo / Thinkstock
Outnumbered. Female board membership on NZX listed companies is less than 10 per cent, with only 4 in 100 having gender parity. Photo / Thinkstock

At some point I'm sure you have all heard what I hope is the now outdated saying, 'a woman's place is in the home'. While a woman's place can now equally be in the workplace, it seems it still isn't guaranteed that it is in the boardroom.

The Human Rights Commission has reported that women are now losing some of the gains we had made in achieving workplace equality. Times are tough - and for women, it seems they're even tougher.

Of the top 100 companies listed on the NZ Stock Exchange, female board membership is at less than 10 per cent (9.32 per cent, up from 7.13 per cent in 2006). And of those companies, only 4 out of 100 have gender parity on their boards.

The challenge for many senior females is balancing work life and family life. It starts with balancing work and pregnancy (and I've heard stories of women needing to dash from meetings to throw up and wearing looser fitting outfits to try and disguise their pregnancies).

Of course, it doesn't end, indeed it's only just beginning once a child arrives.

Then there is the challenge of balancing work and caring for a child. How long do you take for maternity leave? Can you afford the cost of child care? Then there is also the fact that not everything will always run according to plan (I'm led to believe very little will!

So do women need extra assistance then? Positive discrimination, if you will? So far in New Zealand, it seems the answer is no. As yet, New Zealand has not followed the likes of Norway, the Netherlands, France and Spain which all have legislation to boost the number of women on company boards.

New Zealand women want to get there on their own - because the board wants them there - not just because they're women and not because of a quota.

Organisations such as Global Women - Women in Leadership, chaired by the Rt Honourable Dame Jenny Shipley, are doing their bit to ensure that New Zealand women have the skills to earn a place on the many company boards in New Zealand, but what more can we do?

And at a lower lever, is the gap only at board level? Or are there issues for females in the workplace at any level, which we ought to be talking about?

They say that behind every great man, is a great (or even greater) woman. What's behind our great women?

Bridget Smith is an employment lawyer at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts

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