Three researchers are calling for urgent action after a study that revealed what they call "woeful" boardroom diversity in New Zealand.

A study by AUT Public Policy Professor Judy McGregor, economist Shamubeel Eaqub and barrister Catriona MacLennan found that while boardroom diversity is increasing, only 24.1 per cent of board members of New Zealand's top 100 NZX companies by market capitalisation are female.

The trio say while female representation is increasing, it is at a "snail-like pace" and effectively stalled.

They are calling for an action plan including:

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• NZX to set an example for other companies by immediately moving to 50 per cent female board members on its own board, prioritising future appointments of female chairs and chief executives, and acting to implement ethnic diversity;

• The NZX Top 100 companies set targets of 50 per cent women on boards within 12 months;

• New Zealand follow the Australian Stock Exchange's example of quotas for women on boards, with NZX monitoring implementation;

• Fund managers act to implement diversity on boards and in management;.

They also want diversification to be on the agenda for the Prime Minister's new business advisory council, due to hold its first meeting on November 8.

The survey found the number of women on boards increasing, but the researchers say the pace of change is
The survey found the number of women on boards increasing, but the researchers say the pace of change is "glacial." Image / Supplied.

The trio have also published stats on the best and worst NZX-listed companies for gender diversity.

The best:

• Tourism Holdings: 66.6 per cent

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• Steel & Tube Holdings: 60 per cent

• Genesis Energy: 57.1 per cent female directors

• Contact Energy: 50 per cent

• Kingfish: 50 per cent

• Spark: 50 per cent

• Summerset Group: 50 per cent

• Air New Zealand: 42.8 per cent

• Abano Healthcare: 42.8 per cent

• Freightways: 42.8 per cent

• Oceania Healthcare: 42.8 per cent

The worst

The following companies on NZX's Top 100 list have no female directors"

• Pushpay

• Argosy Property

• CBL (in voluntary administration);

• Gentrack

• Scales

• NZ Top 50 Fund

• PGG Wrightson

• Millennium & Copthorne Hotels NZ

• The Colonial Motor Co

• NZ Bond Fund

• CDL Investments NZ

• Turners Automotive Group

• Scott Technology

• US 500 Fund

• Orion Health Group

• Global Bond Fund

• Europe

• Pacific Edge

• Rubicon

While Pushpay has been a stand-out stock, the diversity wooden spooners include a number of under-performers including CBL, Orion Health Group and

McGregor has done the survey six times since 2008 and said she feared she would not in her lifetime see 50 per cent women on boards.

"Progress is glacial. 20 companies in the Top 100 still have no women on their boards. That is unacceptable in terms of business reputation, market responsiveness, consumer confidence and gender equality."

MacLennan said the picture was equally woeful for ethnic diversity. She commended Champions for Change for pledging to make ethnic diversity reporting a priority in 2019.

"In 2018, we do not even have accurate statistics about the ethnic makeup of company boards because we don't care enough to produce them. However, what is plainly apparent is that Māori, Pasifika and migrant faces are almost absent from our top company boards."

Eaqub, who is a director of KiwiSaver manager Simplicity, said fund managers needed to promote diversity on boards and in management. Simplicity worked to use its voice to help transform the business sector into a more diverse place and other fund managers should follow suit.