A top New Zealand businesswoman says Kiwi women are still being "frozen out" of the boardroom.

Diane Foreman said progress in getting more women on boards in New Zealand was glacial.

"The problem here is that the pool of women is small. Companies tend to appoint the same women. We need different women around the table."

A recent report by Harvard Business School noted that the percentage of women directors on boards in New Zealand was 7.5 per cent.


Foreman said that was less than half the global average of 16 per cent.

"We are frozen out, not accepted or wanted."

Despite it being 2014, Foreman said she was still having conversations where male directors talked about appointing a "bloke" to the role.

She said women were still being locked out by the "old boys' network" in New Zealand.

Foreman, who was ranked 60th on the NBR Rich List last year with an estimated value of $185 million, said one area where she believed a change could be made was in helping more women entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday she helped launch the New Zealand arm of an EY (Ernst & Young) programme aimed at giving start-up women entrepreneurs tools to help grow their businesses.

New Zealand is one of 10 countries to launch Entrepreneurial Winning Women.

The launch was also backed by Ernst and Young global board member Beth Brooke who flew in from the US for the event.

Brooke said NZ was not alone in making slow progress. "I do think it varies by jurisdiction but if you look at the global picture it is glacial."

Europe was one of the few areas making progress through the introduction of quotas but Brooke said she was not a fan of those despite liking the results.

She said more needed to be done by both the Government and the private sector.

"This cannot be government led alone or private sector alone. Private sector can take matters into its own hands but arguably that is happening too slowly."

She said too many companies were declaring a victory after appointing just one woman to their board.

Brooke said the problem was the definition of a potential director tended to be a sitting CEO and women were not there.

"They are not looking at the skill set required and that narrows the pool.

"It's about getting companies to expand their minds. But the problem is the last question that gets asked is who knows them? And that disadvantages women.

"We've got to get boards to challenge their criteria and process. Otherwise they are building in a bias unintentionally."

Brooke said more male CEOs needed to sponsor senior women executives into sitting on the board of another company.

A term limit on how long a person can sit on a board would also help.

Brooke said women who made it to the top also needed to leave the ladder down for others although that was a challenge given there were so few women at that level.