New Zealand has moved beyond the point of needing quotas to get more women on to boards but targets are still necessary to avoid relying on luck, say top women in the finance sector.
More than 100 women involved in New Zealand's capital markets attended an event in Auckland on Thursday as part of the NZX's 150-year celebrations to talk about transforming the market and the challenges for women in the sector.
Women make up just 22 per cent of the directors of NZX-listed companies and only three out of the top 50 companies have female chief executives.
Twenty-seven listed companies have no women on their boards at all.
But despite that, a panel of four top women chosen to speak at the event said progress had been made.
Angela Busby, chief strategy officer at AIA - New Zealand's largest life insurer, said 20 years ago when she was working as a broker in a dealing room, an event where women could get together and talk about the capital markets would not even have happened.
She said back then women wore dress suits with big shoulder pads because they felt they needed to.
"Now we have got three women CEOs of banks at the moment. Unheard of in the 80s and 90s."
Alana Barron, head of client solutions at broker and investment bank Jarden, who began her career on Wall Street as an analyst for JP Morgan, said juggling a high-level career and a family was one of her biggest achievements.
But she admitted to not always putting her family first recalling how she felt frustrated while working in Sydney that her daughter's daycare closed "inconveniently early" at 6pm - the child was just 1 at the time.
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Barron said flexibility was getting better and while it was hard to sneak out early it was even harder to leave loudly and she applauded organisations for encouraging it.
Elaine Campbell, general counsel at Chorus who has worked in financial services most of her career, recalled she was one of the women who wore a bright coloured outfit in the hopes of being noticed among a sea of men in dark coloured suits.
"There were times when I felt really lonely as a woman in financial services. We were definitely in the minority."
But she said she turned that around and began to see it as a way to set the scene for others to follow.
"I look out today and see a sea of women in financial services."
Cathy Quinn, a partner at Minter Ellison, said she had received a lot of great advice over her career, but recalled something that director Joan Withers had told her when she was feeling down.
"When you want something to change you need to make it change yourself."
Barron said it was important to speak up and ask for what you want. "If you want more flexibility, you really need to speak up about it."
She said employers could not be expected to be mind-readers.
But when asked by a member of the audience what they thought of the need for quotas the panel were unanimously against them.
Barron said five years ago she would probably have been in the quota camp but now she favoured targets.
"I have been really lucky to have been given opportunities but I would like to think the next generation of female employees won't have to rely on luck. I like the idea of a more systematic framework to help create a more balanced workplace.
"Targets can sit on the board agenda for a long time until you find the right person."
"Nobody wants to feel like they are there because they are filling a gap."
Busby said she got approached quite a lot to go on boards because of being a woman and Maori.
"But I would rather be approached because I am capable."
Campbell said she was anti quotas.
"I think targets are fine. But ultimately all boards should appoint the best people regardless of what their gender or race. But I think targets are a good thing, it does put a spotlight on it."