Jolie Hodson wants to be a chief executive and if she gets her way, she will be among a very small group of women who have made it to the top of corporate New Zealand.

Hodson is chief financial officer of Spark, but will move up the ranks to become CEO of Spark Digital by the end of the year.

Spark is one of the largest companies listed on the New Zealand stock exchange, which has a dearth of women leaders.

Among the country's top 50 listed companies, not one has a woman as CEO.


Women made up only 17 per cent of directors and only 19 per cent of senior management positions in the country in 2015, according to Global Women NZ.

Hodson, who joined Spark in 2013 after an eight-year stint in Australia with liquor firm Lion, says greater visibility of women is needed as well as sponsorship by other leaders.

"One of the things that is sometimes challenging are the networks. If you are not part of that network, not that it gets you the job, it's hard to break in."

Hodson says one of the reasons she was approached for the role at Spark was her connection with Spark board member Justine Smyth.

The pair previously worked together at both Deloitte and Lion Nathan.

Now Hodson is trying to pay it forward by being mindful of supporting others who approach her wanting advice to climb the corporate ladder, or returning from work overseas.

"I am very much more mindful of my own situation. When people reach out for advice ... to take time to recommend them. Ultimately it is about getting them in the conversation."

But sponsorship from others is only one aspect and women also need to be prepared to take on more risks and challenges in their careers, she says.


"One of the things I think is important is the ability to have confidence to put yourself forward for roles."

One of the biggest career opportunities Hodson took on was accepting the offer of a commercial role at Lion Nathan just weeks before going on maternity leave with her second child, now 10.

She says women and men need to be open to different models of how a family can work after children arrive.

"I took six months off, then my husband took over and has been off since. For our family, that is what works.

"One of the important things is being flexible at certain times."

She has worked full-time while her husband has stayed home looking after their two children.

Hodson says there is always a trade-off in the choices that have to be made and those choices will depend on the support around you.

"It is a value choice as to where you want to spend your time."

Working somewhere that is family-friendly can also help.

At Spark, employees are offered the chance to buy more holiday leave and work different hours during the summer.

She says people have to feel happy about what is happening at home to be successful at work too.

Having greater gender diversity on the board of a company can also help set the culture.

Three out the eight Spark board members are women. It also has three women in its executive team.

Hodson says that means there are role models for other women to look up to.

While currently there aren't any women at CEO level among top listed companies, Hodson says there are some coming through at the second and third levels.

"There is no question the numbers point to not enough women in top roles. But I think there is more happening to support that."

She says greater diversity is needed, not just around gender, but in other areas too.

"It's about getting different experiences and different ways of thinking."

Recruitment has a part to play in that and there is a need for recruiters to be less prescriptive, she says, to open up the candidate pool beyond what has been specified in the job description.

Taking advantage of the varied opportunities offered to her has allowed Hodson to build up her career experiences.

"You need that breadth when you get to the c-suite," she says.

Now she has reached that level, she says personal reflection is also important.

"It's a lot less about technical skills and more about how you lead a team - how do I improve my own leadership style."

And she has her eye firmly set on getting to the top.

"I would like to move to an ultimate CEO role. For that is the opportunity in front of me that I am working towards."

Jolie Hodson

• Joined Spark in 2013 as chief financial officer and will officially step up to CEO of Spark Digital at the end of this year.
• Spent 12 years at Lion Nathan in Australia, working her way up the ranks of the finance division.
• Before that she spent eight years at Deloitte working as an auditor.
• Has a bachelor of commerce from the University of Auckland and undertook a strategic management programme at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.
• Married with two children
• Age: 45

Making it to the top

• Network with people who can connect you with future job opportunities
• Take risks and opportunities offered
• Back yourself - if others believe you can do it, you should too