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Michael Barnett: Move will lead to diverse representation

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The argument that the NZX is not addressing all areas of diversity does not stack up. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The argument that the NZX is not addressing all areas of diversity does not stack up. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The New Zealand Stock Exchange move to introduce a requirement for listed companies to disclose the gender balance of their boards and senior management will bring greater diversity to the top tier of New Zealand companies in many more ways than just gender.

The argument that the NZX is not addressing all areas of diversity does not stack up. It is not necessary to broaden reporting to account for all aspects of diversity - making businesses accountable for gender diversity will have natural and far-reaching implications.

Businesses will have a responsibility to review the make-up of their management teams and leadership across the whole of their organisation, not just their boards.

Logically this will mean other aspects including age, ethnicity and those who are differently abled will be addressed.

At the top tier, we have already seen changes in the faces of board members. Some of the board tables I have sat at lately have been very different from a picture of "greying governance".

Over the past decade, in particular, there has been a distinct improvement in diversity of age and backgrounds, but the move to balance gender representation has been slow and the majority of the NZX's 100 companies still have no female directors.

By introducing a gender rule, the NZX has taken a significant and much-needed step to bring more women to the decision-making table, which can only lead to benefits for these companies.

Research by the Australian Reiby Institute after the introduction of the ASX diversity policy showed the presence of women was associated with better financial performance.

Ethnic diversity is a relatively recent phenomenon in New Zealand and has been driven by immigration, but gender under-representation at the highest levels of corporate governance has a history harking back a century.

And this is despite the rise of women in business and a pool of extraordinary women capable of making more impact.

We have celebrated moments when we have had women as heads of state or playing significant roles in our economy, but these moments have been too few and far between.

It's possible to count our female political and business leaders on two hands. That needs to change.

We can't say that women have not been available for these roles.

We have extraordinary women in business but we have not taken advantage of the skills and different thinking they can bring to the management team and to the boardroom, and we have failed to ensure there is encouragement for women to be supported into leadership positions.

There is little point in celebrating a few successes, but if we ensure the pipeline of talent is full - this means more women in management - then the step up to the boardroom will be inevitable and inspire others to follow.

The NZX gender diversity ruling is an important turning point, a very significant step towards changing the face of the boardrooms of the future.

We should not be criticising it; we should celebrate it and welcome the changes, which will lead not only to more women at boardroom tables but more diverse representation that reflects our workforce.

Michael Barnett is the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust and chief executive of the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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