Kate McKenzie, the new chief executive of telecommunications provider Chorus, is the only female running a listed company in New Zealand.

And there were no women included in the Herald's annual CEO pay survey released today as McKenzie only took up the role in February this year.

READ MORE:Revealed: What NZ's top executives are paid

My Food Bag founder and former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung, the first woman to run a large public company in 1999, is gobsmacked at the lack of women leading NZX50 companies.


"About six per cent of the biggest US companies have women CEOs, and in New Zealand it's probably even worse than that," Gattung said.

There are a total of 31 companies run by women in the US Fortune500 - six per cent, and just two per cent in New Zealand.

The focus on getting women into senior roles was moving at a glacial pace, Gattung said.

"The picture of a CEO that we carry around in our heads still looks like a tall, white man."

This is unconscious bias - one of the same problems that leads to pay inequity, Gattung said.

"Women still seem to lack the critical support from hierarchy sponsors... who can help them ascend the corporate ladder.

"Companies really need to have programs to nurture a strong pipeline of female talent behind whoever the current CEO is, whether they are a man or women."

Women in executive teams seem to be largely in HR, Gattung said.


"There needs to be a really consorted push at the company level. From the individual women level, you have to be good at what you do but you also have to be fearless and courageous. You have to put yourself forward and be OK about not getting it, but putting it out there anyway.

"You have to have a grit determination and you've absolutely got to have the right life partner if you want to have kids as well, because you can not thrive in the long term and be resilient unless you've got really good home support."

Leading New Zealand company director Joan Withers told the Business Herald that the lack of female leadership within the NZX50 was "disappointing".

Historically there's only ever been four women leading NZX50 companies at any given time.

The picture of a CEO that we carry around in our heads still looks like a tall, white man.

"The business case for diversity is irrefutable so we've got to do better. We've got to start seeing the numbers change or we risk a future government coming in and saying, 'We're going to impose quotas', which I think would be a negative step," Withers said.

Gattung doesn't believe New Zealand's leadership offering has retreated, but says progress has stalled.

"I don't think we've gone backwards, I just think we haven't gone forwards, progress has stalled and the rate of change is glacial.

"[The lack of female CEOs] will improve only if we as a country care about this enough and if men want their daughters to have the opportunity to run a company then the companies they're involved in at whatever level, but particularly if they're in senior roles, need to make sure they have policies and programs in place to make that a possibility."

There's an uneven effort in the private sector to cultivate change, Gattung said.

"If you look across all of New Zealand, at the public sector as well as the private sector, then I think the picture is not so bleak. But if you look at just the private sector, we're not going anywhere in a hell of a hurry."

Click here to see the full survey findings.