Having more women in leadership increases innovation, boosts profit and results in more satisfied customers.

It also helps with staff recruitment and retention.

Despite this New Zealand is one of the lowest-ranked countries worldwide for women in senior leadership.

A revealing report by consultants Deloitte estimated if New Zealand firms achieved gender parity in leadership, the resulting participation benefits would lead to the economy being around $881 million larger.

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The financial gain is significant - so why are we not there?

Adrienne Miller, acting CEO for Diversity Works, said the whole employee life cycle needed to be looked at carefully to see whether it operated fairly for all.

Adrienne Miller said gender diverse workplaces are more innovative and profitable. Photo / Supplied
Adrienne Miller said gender diverse workplaces are more innovative and profitable. Photo / Supplied

"We've still got some legacies from the 1950s driving our workplaces," Miller said.

"The world was designed 50 years ago to accommodate the nuclear family where the main breadwinner, usually a male, worked and was supported by a stay at home parent, a female.

"Unfortunately, a lot of workplaces are still geared to that model."

Diversity Works New Zealand is a not-for-profit that focuses on all dimensions of diversity including gender, ableness, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, and faith.

The organisation helps businesses "do diversity and inclusion well, and do well because of it".

Miller said workplaces that are diverse and inclusive, where all staff are encouraged to be involved and speak up, are hothouses for innovation and new ideas.

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Having a gender diverse workplace, where women were provided leadership opportunities and the ability to share their knowledge, was proven to be good for business, Miller said.

"Where employees have a sense of belonging and are valued you also get better retention rates

"If you have an environment where someone doesn't feel comfortable, they are not included or they don't have progression, even though they are skilled and able, then you are going to have staff turnover issues."

And high staff churn cuts into company profits, she said.

A gender-diverse workplace was also positive.

"If you are really savvy around positioning your employment brand, you will attract staff and you will get a recruitment knock-on effect," she said.

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"That also future proofs you where there are skill shortages in a sector."

Last year energy provider Vector was the supreme winner of the Diversity Awards NZ ™ run by Diversity Works New Zealand.

The company was praised for acknowledging it operates in a male-dominated industry where gender diversity has been a long term issue.

Vector recognised it had a gender pay gap and took steps to close it.

The company conducted its first pay equity audit in 2017, which identified a 14.9 per cent average pay gap between females and males.

During 2017 and 2018 10 women received pay increases to address this.

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The company also committed to increasing the number of women employed from 30 per cent to 50.8 per cent.

Vector won the Diversity Award last year for an inclusive culture right across its business. Photo / Supplied
Vector won the Diversity Award last year for an inclusive culture right across its business. Photo / Supplied

It developed a Women in Leadership programme, to identify and grow female leadership at all levels of the organisation.

CEO Simon MacKenzie said the company was still working toward getting more women in technical and engineering space.

"We want to see women having more of a voice saying what should happen and what should change and what customers want," MacKenzie said.

"Giving more of a profile to those women who are making a difference in our business."

Miller said the work Vector had done was compelling as it gave women advancement opportunities at all levels.

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"Vector gave women visibility and the opportunity to demonstrate competence and merit by solving a pervasive business problem."

At Bluebird Foods, production manager Shajeena Mohamed Ali said her workplace was progressive with a high ratio of women in the usually male-dominated area of manufacturing.

The PepsiCo owned company has a workforce made up of 54 per cent women and their leadership team is also comprised of 50 per cent women.

Ali works on the production line for Doritos, Twisties and Burger Rings, and looks after half of the plant.

Engineer Shajeena Mohamed Ali works at Bluebird Foods where half the leadership team is women. Photo / Supplied
Engineer Shajeena Mohamed Ali works at Bluebird Foods where half the leadership team is women. Photo / Supplied

She's been with PepsiCo for 12 years, previously working as an engineer in India and Dubai before coming to New Zealand.

"Compared to India and Dubai I work with a lot more women here in New Zealand," Ali said.

She said a gender diverse workplace was the driving force of problem-solving.

"Having a diverse workforce is great because we see different ways of working and different ways of thinking."

Ali said there was always room for improvement and wanted to see more women come through the maintenance roles at the company.

"That is something we need to encourage at a younger age where girls are choosing their career.

"They need to know that it is a great career to get into."

*This is the third in a three-part NZ Herald Job Market series looking at women at work, the gender pay gap and diversity and flexibility in the workplace.