It is more common to find someone called James than a woman among the top tier of Fortune 500 business leaders- and it's no better in New Zealand.

This was one finding of research by the New York Times Glass Ceiling Index, which also found there were fewer female republican senators and fewer female democratic governors than men named John.

Women represented about 50.8 per cent of the US population, whereas men called John accounted for only 3.3 per cent.

The index was inspired by a 2015 report from EY, which found that women made up 16 per cent of board members of companies on the S&P 1500 - less than the share of seats held by men named John, Robert, James and William.

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In New Zealand there are twice as many chief executives of the top 50 publicly-listed companies called David, Peter, Chris or Simon, and four times as many Johns, than there are women.

This isn't difficult given there is only one woman.

Last year, the new Chorus chief executive Kate McKenzie became the only female chief executive on the NZX 50 despite the issue being widely publicised for many years.

At the time, My Food Bag founder and former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung, who in 1999 became the first woman to run a large public company, said the stats were appalling.

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

Women in executive teams seemed to be largely in human resources, she said.

"There needs to be a really concerted 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.

New Chorus chief executive Kate McKenzie - the only female CEO on the NZX50. Photo / Peter Meecham
New Chorus chief executive Kate McKenzie - the only female CEO on the NZX50. Photo / Peter Meecham

"You have to put yourself forward and be okay about not getting it, but putting it out there anyway."

The New York Times said its study showed significant gender-skewed representation.

"Women earn more college degrees than men and increasingly work in occupations that used to be male-dominated, and yet their progress to positions of power has been slowed or stalled," it said.

The NY Times attributed this to women being more likely to take breaks from their careers to raise children.

The number of chief executives named John - a group that is overwhelmingly white - is very similar to the number of female executives. There are even more Jameses.
The number of chief executives named John - a group that is overwhelmingly white - is very similar to the number of female executives. There are even more Jameses.

Men at the top were more likely to mentor and promote people like themselves and women faced double standards.

"People in power need to be assertive and ambitious, but women are often criticised for acting that way," it said.

"One of the biggest reasons women are so outnumbered at the top, studies show, is discrimination."