Come the summer holidays I was chopping up metal in the former Shacklock factory in Dunedin. It was mind-numbingly boring.

I have a competitive streak. So, each week I set out to break my previous record for slicing up metal which would later be forged into hob rings.

But that poster of "Rosie the riveter" in my room in a Wellington student flat had not prepared me for the reality of the world of work in the early 1970s.

The bossy foreman would call the men out for "smoko" and remind any woman deemed to be shirking that she would be "down the road" if she didn't watch out.


Getting pregnant (married or otherwise) was one of those realities.

Even married factory women would corset themselves in to hide the "bump" that was recently proudly displayed by an unmarried Prime Minister and a Cabinet Minister. Women would stand alongside any woman "up the duff" to hide her from the foreman's gaze.

The foreman would query if any woman absented herself from the coalface for instance with PMS; although no-one called it that then. It just didn't exist. Women simply soldiered through.

Any gratitude I might have for getting the job in the first place quickly went when I realised I was getting about 55 per cent of the wage of a man next to me doing the same job, with similar family responsibilities, taking longer "smokos" (tea breaks for us) and far less efficient than me. Remonstrating with the foreman cost me that job.

There were no "Rosies" in his world.

Another short-lived holiday job at the Post Office HQ in Wellington was to add up the cost of toll calls for finalising customers' bills. It at least had some semblance of equal pay.

But you could not escape noticing that it was mainly women doing this job. Men had higher paid work.

Fast forward a year or so and women were asserting their right to equal pay, taking part in consciousness-raising, burning their bras, challenging the patriarchy, and protesting for the right to get a mortgage from the local bank without first trotting up with a parental (read father's) guarantee or laughably from a much younger brother who might just be a student.


"Rosie the riveter" had been replaced by another poster of a smashing red sports car with "If this lady was a car she'd mow you down" emblazoned on it.

If only it was that simple.

The right for women to participate equally in the workplace as staffers, executives, CEOs, directors and company chairs and business owners has been a hard won affair.

Women have blasted their megaphones on this issue since the 1970s when equal pay was finally legislated. The state sector has been enlightened. Women have occupied many senior roles as heads of major Government departments like the revenue or the audit Office.

We've had a female chief justice, three female Prime Ministers, and three female Governors Generals.

But ladies, hold off on that a victory roll. There is still an equal pay gap.


There is still only a handful of women running major listed companies. We are still debating whether or not quotas should be introduced to ensure more women are appointed to company boards and other governance structures.

Groups like Champions for Change push the case for diversity and inclusion and commit to action within their own companies and institutions.

But in my view far too many younger women pump too early for a governance career.

It may be smart to do so given the current push to get more female representation on public sector boards and institutions.

But the leadership rests in the CEO's suite.

Ensuring women have the education, confidence and leadership skills to progress in a company requires a bit of massage. The banks get it. Women may start as "people leaders" or CFOs but are then blooded by managing operations which have significant P&L impacts so they acquire the skill set and track record to contest for the top role.


Other women just "get out of corporate", set up their own companies and make personal wealth.

In Suffrage Week we will hear more of those trail-blazing stories.

And perhaps a bit too much repetition of how "women were GIVEN the vote" in a world first in 1893. The Parliamentarians did not "give" women the vote. They extended the franchise as a result of women kicking up a storm and asserting their democratic rights.

The right not to be a chattel and to be a fully-fledged participant in a democracy.

If we can do it in politics, why is business so hard?