“Men are still viewed as default leaders and women as atypical leaders”
– (Hannum et al., 2015, p. 66).
New Zealand has a severe shortage of women in leadership at governance levels in the private sector. For kiwi companies listed on the stock market, only 17% of directors are female. In senior management in terms of staff, it isn’t much better: of the top 50 companies on the NZX, only one has a woman Chief Executive.
Such low statistics surely don’t inspire young ambitious New Zealand women to feel optimistic about their chances of achieving governance roles here. Instead, it sends the signal that to be a woman in governance will be a struggle – you will be in the minority and roles might be difficult to find. This could have a troubling, long-term negative impact on dissuading the pipeline of future talent from setting their sights on governance.
In the public sector, there is a conscious commitment to improving gender diversity on boards. This has had strong results. The number of women on state sector boards is now at its highest ever: 45 per cent as at December 2016. These positive statistics, however, have not translated to the private sector. Change is occurring at a glacial pace.
This is of interest to me because in my previous career as a business journalist, I often interviewed women in business and wrote about the lack of female leadership at a governance level. In completing my MBA, I am aspiring to governance myself and see the current low levels as frustrating.
This research project looks at the current situation for women in governance in New Zealand and considers the role of mentoring in developing more women with an interest in and capability for governance roles. It will seek to answer the research question of, ‘How can mentoring contribute to preparing more New Zealand women for private sector governance roles?’
My research looks at different kinds of mentoring, analyses what women learn and gain in mentoring relationships, and identifies links between mentoring and women aspiring to governance. It will also consider how mentoring of Māori women can best be done according to tikanga Māori.
The research will include interviewing approximately ten people either in person or by phone, who self-identify as women and are in at least their second governance role on a board. When we talk about diversity, of course, gender is only one small part of that. Ethnic diversity is also important. Currently, according to an Ernst & Young report, Māori account for just 2 per cent of board directors. To ensure a range of views are represented, interview subjects will be from a range of ethnic backgrounds. The interview subjects will be referred to in the research with pseudonyms to protect confidentiality.
The results will be made available in December 2017.