Having once been a world leader in the number of women in senior management roles in business, New Zealand is now dropping back to the pack and the outlook continues to get gloomier, according to the latest research from Grant Thornton.
The figures from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR), to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, reveal that while the percentage of women in senior management positions throughout New Zealand’s businesses has stalled at 28%, it is the other trends in the report that are more discouraging.
Stacey Davies, partner, Grant Thornton New Zealand, said that standing still means we are actually going backwards compared with the rest of the world.
“Last year we were ranked 10th out of 40 countries surveyed and this year we have dropped to 17th out of 44 countries. During that time the global average has grown from 21% to 24%. We peaked at 32% in 2011.
“And from the other statistics revealed in the survey, New Zealand appears likely to slip further down the table over the next 12 months,” she said.
The number of businesses offering flexible hours has dropped from 81% to 78% and the number of companies looking to employ or promote more women into senior management is also going south with only 13% of companies expecting to do this against a global average of 15%.
“New Zealand was once a world leader in promoting flexibility in the workforce. Last year we were ranked fourth in the survey, now we are 10th and in the employment and promotion of women we are ranked 22nd out of 44.
“Reinforcing these trends is the fact that in 2012, 26% of businesses had no women in senior management and this year that figure has risen to 30%. This is in sharp contrast to what is happening around the rest of the world where this figure has dropped from 34% to 31%.”
Interestingly, those countries with less flexibility tend to have a higher percentage of women in senior management. In the low-ranking G7 countries, 72% of businesses provide flexible working arrangements, while in China, where women hold 51% of senior management roles, only 27% of businesses offer flexibility.
“From personal experience I can understand this statistic. It is very difficult to hold down a senior management position and be part-time, even with a strong support team at work. To hold down a senior management role requires time and commitment.
“Flexibility gives choice and women are weighing up whether to take fulltime, senior management roles, or possibly less senior positions with more flexibility in order to balance other commitments in their lives.
“Another factor possibly holding some women back from committing to these senior management positions is the peer pressure from other women who have not chosen to return to their careers quickly. I was fortunate to have a very supportive husband who took five months paternity leave so I was able to return to work reasonably quickly after our first child was born. However, I had to deal with being judged by other women for returning so soon,” she said.
New Zealand statistics indicate that women born from 1972 to 1976 were the first group to be more highly qualified than their male counterparts and in 2010 there were more female than male tertiary graduates, with 59% of all tertiary graduates being women, holding 64% of bachelor degrees.
“So it is a conundrum. New Zealand women are more educated than they have ever been, yet the numbers holding down senior management positions is static at best and starting to be overtaken by the rest of the world.
“The effect on business is obvious. Pioneer economies, where economic growth is high now have greater diversity in their senior management teams than the G7 group of developed countries, where economic performance has been stuttering.
“Women are playing a major role in driving world’s growth economies, bringing balance to the decision making process and the smooth running of their companies. New Zealand and the likes of the G7 economies need to wake up to gender disparity and add this crucial ingredient to long-term growth and profitability.
“Do we want to see this downward slide continue or is it time for business leaders to stop and do something about it? Organisations need to think about the long-term costs of not doing anything.
“Women who have achieved senior roles have a social responsibility to support others to do the same but also to remind colleagues in senior management and boards of directors what their organisations need to be doing to develop and maintain supportive environments to nurture the talents of these aspiring leaders.
“The statistics show a quota system is not the answer. This would not be beneficial in the long run and I don’t believe capable qualified candidates (male or female) want to see a quota system imposed. Women should only be appointed to senior roles because they are the best person for the role. But if people believe women reach these roles by accident they are sadly mistaken.
“What will ultimately spur businesses on to include more women in senior roles is the belief that their performance will improve and their growth will be healthier if they do so. What our research shows is that it is good practice, and those regions adopting it are currently outperforming those who aren’t,” she said.