A look into the gender divide in the appointments made by Government ministers showed six ministers had hired less than three women for every 10 appointees.

Government ministers defended their ratio of male to female appointments by saying that decisions were made on merit, and reflected the sectors they represented.

Prime Minister John Key, who appointed 29.17 per cent of board positions to women, said he personally made very few appointments.

"We appoint people on merit, and to be frank some boards are more likely to be women-dominated. If you go and have a look at health, for instance, the Midwifery Council's almost exclusively women."

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Housing and Building Minister Nick Smith said it was a challenge to appoint more women in the building sector.

He said it was easier for the Education Minister to appoint more women because of the high level of female participation in the education sector.

"As minister of building, it's a bit more challenging in that the sectors that I'm representing around the Licensed Building Practitioners' Board, the plumbers' board, the gasfitters' board, the engineers' board tend to be professions that have a larger number of men.

"I appoint on the basis of merit. The Minister of Women's Affairs has laid a challenge down to all colleagues to try and get better representation of women.

"There is a job for me to do in those specialist professions, particularly the building industry, to find more women in those sectors so that I can do better."

State Services Minister Paula Bennett, whose appointments of women was at the lower end of the scale, said her department had overseen an increase in the number of women chief executives.

"And that's something I take immense pride in," she said.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs gender stocktake of state sector appointments in 2014 showed little improvement on the gender divide had been made in the last decade.

Women made up 41.7 per cent of all state sector boards and committees, an increase of 0.7 per cent since 2004.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue said some ministers were doing well in closing the gender gap in the state sector, while other ministers had a long way to go.

"We need to do a lot better. Female representation on our state sector boards hasn't changed one iota in a decade," said Dr Blue.

John Key, Nick Smith, Chris Finlayson, Gerry Brownlee, Simon Bridges and Murray McCully had all appointed less than a third of their positions on government boards to women.

In 2004, a target of 50 per cent women on all state sector boards and committees by 2010 was set, when a survey found women made up 41 per cent.

In 2010, it was clear that the target of women making 50 per cent of board appointments would not be met and the target was reduced to 45 per cent for 2015.

Mr McCully and Mr Bridges appointed less than a quarter board position to women. Mr McCully appointed 23.63 per cent women to boards in 2014 and Mr Bridges appointed 24.56 per cent.

Mr Brownlee appointed 26 per cent of positions to women and Mr Smith appointed 27.84 per cent of positions to women.

Prime Minister John Key appointed 29.17 per cent of board positions to women.

The ministers closest to the target equality level of 45 per cent were Bill English, 48.24 per cent, Anne Tolley, 45.9 per cent, Louise Upston, 44 per cent, and Sam Lotu-Iiga, 43.75 per cent.

"I congratulate ministers close to achieving 45 per cent and 50 per cent, and those who have slightly surpassed 50 per cent," Dr Blue said.

"However ministers who appoint less than 3 in 10 women to their boards have a lot of catching up to do."

At the top end of the scale was Minister for Community and Voluntary Service Jo Goodhew, who appointed 66.66 per cent of board positions to women.

Dr Blue said Ms Goodhew's future appointments would need to focus on re-balancing.

The size of minister's appointments surveyed by the Ministry of Women's Affairs varied greatly depending on the minister's portfolios.

The stocktake includes only Ministerial appointments that are required to be considered through the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee or other Cabinet committees, and appointments made by the Governor-General on the recommendation of a Minister.

It does not include members who have been elected, appointed as members of professional groups without Ministerial right of approval, ex-officio members, or current MPs.

Temporary boards or committees were not included."Gender equality isn't a women's issue it's a human issue and a human rights issue.

We need to normalise gender equality so it becomes a reality for everyday New Zealanders" Dr Blue said.

"Gender equality doesn't just improve the lives of women it improves the future of entire generations."

"There is growing evidence that gender balanced boards function better and are good for business.

"Government ministers have a real opportunity to lead by example."

Dr Blue said the argument that there are not enough suitably qualified women is weak because New Zealand women are some of the most educated women in the world.

The 2014 World Economic Forum's annual report on the gender gap saw New Zealand drop in global rankings from seventh to thirteenth.

The top five countries for gender equality in order were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Putting Women At The Top

1- Jo Goodhew - 66.66 per cent
2 - Michael Woodhouse - 58.6 per cent
3 - Jonathan Coleman - 55.47 per cent
4 - Peter Dunne - 54.24 per cent
5 - Hekia Parata - 52 per cent
6 - Bill English - 48.24 per cent
7 - Anne Tolley - 45.9 per cent
8 - Louise Upston - 44 per cent
9 - Sam Lotu-Iiga - 43.75 per cent
10 - Paul Goldsmith - 41.79 per cent
11 - Te Ururoa Flavell - 38.64 per cent
12 - Todd McLay - 37.17 per cent
13 - Craig Foss - 37.04 per cent
14 - Tim Groser - 36.36 per cent
15 - Amy Adams - 35.36 per cent
16 - Steven Joyce - 35.09 per cent
17 - Nathan Guy - 35 per cent
18 - Maggie Barry - 33.72 per cent
19 = Paula Bennett - 33.33 per cent
19 = Nikki Kaye - 33.33 per cent
21 - Chris Finalyson - 31.62 per cent
22 - John Key - 29.17 per cent
23 - Nick Smith - 27.84 per cent
24 - Gerry Brownlee - 26 per cent
25 - Simon Bridges - 24.56 per cent
26 - Murray McCully - 23.63 per cent