The results of a new gender equality survey provide further sobering proof of the problems facing women in the workplace.

The Westpac New Zealand Diversity Dividend study, carried out by Deloitte, canvassed 500 businesses and found women made up 49 per cent of the workforce — but only 29 per cent of leadership roles.

The survey found equal gender representation in leadership roles could provide an almost $900 million annual economic boost.

This was because more women would stay committed to businesses in which they had female role models, and because women leaders were more likely to support flexible working arrangements and childcare support, potentially attracting more part-time workers and primary caregivers to the workforce.

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The potential financial gain for individual businesses and the country is compelling. So why is there still such a gender gulf at the top?

According to the survey, almost half of the businesses said lack of talent was the reason for lack of gender parity in their workforces. That beggars belief. Women are natural managers and multi-taskers.

After all, they are often the holders of family knowledge, the main caregivers, the go-to people. They often do all this while juggling work outside the home, too. The fact that this work is "unseen" and deemed "women's work" is at the heart of the problem.

Sadly, in many cases that is reflected in the workplace, too, where women are still largely taken for granted as the "workers", not the managers. Yet women in many workplaces will be able to point out their hardworking, dedicated and talented female colleagues, working in the shadows for little recognition or reward.

Lack of talent is a poor excuse, then. It reflects badly on businesses and shows how entrenched attitudes towards women are.

The previous Government lauded its gender equality credentials, yet put no onus on businesses to change, and had to be dragged through the courts before it made its first big strides in the Kristine Bartlett equal pay case.

The new Government has much to do. After all, this is not a fluffy, feel-good exercise. New Zealand — like all other United Nations member states — has signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030, the fifth of which is "to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls" — commonly referred to as "50/50 by 2030".

The results of the survey show the hurdles ahead, including the fact that only 40 per cent of businesses have a gender parity strategy and of those that had one, only 26 per cent measured themselves against it.

The idea of quotas and box-ticking may be unpalatable to some, but they are clearly necessary to change the current dynamic that does not always reward merit alone.

Progressive businesses can make their workplaces more attractive to and supportive of women, thereby increasing their credibility and their bottom line — as the survey has shown is possible.

Those that don't clearly have much to lose. Can anyone afford not to be on board?