A top female company director says that ideally quotas would not be needed in New Zealand.

But after years of glacial progress Susan Peterson says she is now increasingly of the view that quotas may be necessary to boost the number of women on boards.

"I am increasingly open-minded. I think we have got to the point where progress has been - as Joan Withers [another woman director] described it - glacial - and we have to think about different ways."

Peterson, who sits on five corporate boards including ASB Bank and Xero, has been a director for nearly five years.


She says getting onto the first board can be the hardest part.

Peterson used the relationships made through a career in banking to get her start.

But it wasn't all plain sailing.

Her first directorship was Wynyard Group - a crime-fighting software company - which failed in 2016 - just three and a half years after listing.

She is now on the boards of ASB bank, Xero, Trustpower, Vista Group and Property for Industry.

On the ASB and Xero boards there is almost a 50-50 split of men and women but on the other three she is the only woman.

Professional director Susan Peterson believes quotas maybe necessary to boost women on boards. Photo/Brett Phibbs.
Professional director Susan Peterson believes quotas maybe necessary to boost women on boards. Photo/Brett Phibbs.

She says coming from a finance and legal background she got used to working with mainly men.

"The gender composition of any group does make a difference. Every team is stronger when it has balance. You need to take a different approach to influencing outcomes if you are sitting on a male dominated board."


She is full of praise for the chairmen of those boards who have achieved gender balance - Gavin Walker at ASB and Graham Smith at Xero.

While she would like to see her other boards increase the number of women on them, she says it is a process that takes time. You first need to earn the trust of your fellow directors around the board table - in terms of contribution and collaboration.

"Influencing change to ensure that the process to appoint directors is made more objective is key. We have to move beyond the approach of 'who knows who' and focus more on objectively identifying those skills that are critical to keeping the company 'future fit'," she says.

A survey last year pointed to a perception that the biggest barrier to getting more women on boards is that they can't find the candidates.

But Peterson says that this is not always true and that there are many capable women out there.

"We are committed to making progress. It has been way too slow, but we are determined to get there."