Women board directors in New Zealand are less likely to be married or have children and more likely to have higher qualifications than their male counterparts, research by Harvard Business School has shown.
Professor Boris Groysberg and Deborah Bell undertook a survey of directors in New Zealand in March 2012 and March 2013 on the back of a global survey of 1000 board members in 59 countries.
They found striking differences between the gender profiles of directors and the reasons why men and women believe there has been slow progress on increasing the number of women on boards.
Despite New Zealand being consistently ranked by the World Economic Forum as one of the countries with the lowest gender gap for women, its percentage of women on boards remained in the single digits, they said. Recent estimates put the percentage of female directors at just 7.5 per cent.
The research found 56 per cent of women directors were married compared to 84 per cent of men directors, while 72 per cent of women had children as opposed to 90 per cent of men.
Of the directors who had children, the number of children was lower for women with an average of 2.4, compared to 2.7 for men.
However, almost twice as many women directors as men had advanced degrees - 88 per cent of women and 45 per cent of men.
"These differences raise the question: might there be a greater cost paid and higher qualification needed by women to reach the same level of career achievement as their male colleagues?"
New Zealand women directors were found to serve on the same number of boards as men during their board career but women were currently serving on more boards.
They were also less likely to have a leadership position such as chair, although some women such as Mighty River Power chair Joan Withers and soon to be listed Genesis Energy chair Dame Jenny Shipley have made it through to the top ranks
Women were also more likely to blame lack of progress for women on boards on traditional networks being male-oriented, while men put it down to lack of women in executive ranks - a reason which was not backed by a single woman director in the research.
More women also backed quotas than men with 50 per cent of female directors agreeing it was an effective tool compared to 29 per cent of men.
The researchers said the differing views on quotas was another indicator of the vastly different orientation to the problem and its possible solution between the genders.
"Women might not only contend that there are enough women qualified for directorships but their greater support for quotas also signifies where they think the chief problem lays: within the boardroom, where they have seen so little progress," the research pair noted.
"In New Zealand, the government is taking a more proactive role in promoting female board representation, and clearly there is enough qualified female talent in the country (some might argue even more qualified than their male counterparts).
"But what's missing is the company/board level interventions. ... We will continue to say, 'Another year, another disappointment'."
Young mum of three bucks the trend
Abby Foote bucks the trend for female directors in New Zealand - she is married, has three children and at 42 is one of the youngest directors on a publicly listed company.
Foote, who joined the board of Z Energy last year, says the low marriage and motherhood rate of women directors in New Zealand may be down to the path traditionally taken to get into directorships.
"In the past it was people who had long and colourful careers as a CEO of a business and then, when they retired, became a director. Women who fell into that category have had to make some sacrifices."
But that was increasingly being seen as not the only route and she hoped that would be reflected in director profiles over time.
Foote became a director at 32 when she was invited to join the board of Mike Pero Mortgages.
She had previously been a finance lawyer on merger and acquisition deals, giving her close contact with boards and management and putting her in good stead for the corporate governance role.
Foote stepped back on to the directorship ladder soon after having her third child, with a role on the board of Transpower.
She says being a professional director works well with her family commitments. "I would chose a directorship over a fulltime career."
Foote is on four professional boards and is also chair of her local school board.
She says it's easy to set the criteria for a governance role that acts as a barrier without having intentional discrimination.
"People have it in mind that you have to be a CEO of a big company." But she says a board made up entirely of former CEOs would not be very diverse.
The gender gap
7.5 percentage of female directors on NZ boards
88% of women had advanced degrees compared to 45% of men
56% of women were married compared to 84% of men
72% of women had children compared to 90% of men