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New Zealand women in management dropping
Embargo: Thursday 8 March 2012
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, according to the latest research from Grant Thornton.
The figures from Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR)
reveal that women hold 28% of senior management positions in businesses in New Zealand, down from 32% in 2011 and still
behind the 2004 level of 31%.
New Zealand’s drop is also reflected in the Asia Pacific economies (25% in 2009 down to 19% in 2012), South East Asia
(36% in 2009 down to 32% in 2012) and the BRIC economies (30% in 2009 down to 26% in 2012).
Europe bucked the trend. Despite rising unemployment, the proportion of women in senior management in Europe has
continued to rise steadily from 17% in 2004 to 20% in 2009 to 24% in 2012.
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Pam Newlove, National Director, Privately Held Business for Grant Thornton New Zealand Ltd, said that New Zealand once
applauded itself for having senior roles such as Prime Minister, Governor General, Chief Justice, Securities Commission
Chairperson and many others, held by women.
“Perhaps we rested too much on our laurels and didn’t realise work was still required to bring the next generation of
female leaders through?
“The key is senior management developing and endorsing corporate cultures whereby hurdles are not put in place
preventing women from aspiring to, and retaining, senior roles. These hurdles include being unwilling to embrace
flexible work practices or a corporate culture that places excessive workloads on senior management that make balancing
such a role with family commitments untenable,” she says.
“I have witnessed many women operate far more effectively than their male counterparts in these senior roles. They tend
to come to work very focussed on what they want to achieve in a fixed time period and will clearly and logically think
through what is needed to achieve an organisation’s goals. Their experiences in multi-tasking on the home-front tend to
make them highly organised on the work front.
“Women make over 50% of the purchasing decisions in most households in New Zealand so why would a company not have them
influencing their own strategy? Can organisations afford not to have them on board the senior management team?” she
Newlove wondered what organisations are doing to encourage female talent at the middle management level to progress
through to senior roles?
“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.
“While many may consider New Zealand’s ranking in these results as pretty good compared with other economies including
our Australian neighbours (24% of senior positions are held by women), we need to ask ourselves whether the downward
slide is a trend we want to see continue or whether it is time for business leaders to stop and do something about it,
and what might the cost be to an organisation long term in not doing anything?
“If people believe women reach these roles by accident they are sadly mistaken, she said.
What I would not want to see introduced is a quota system as is the case in other parts of the world. 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.”
Flexible working hours – New Zealand ranked fourth in the world
When it comes to offering flexible working hours, New Zealand is amongst the world’s best at 81%, headed only by Finland
(89%), Sweden (85%) and Denmark (82%).
“Employers need to be congratulated for this as it does put more pressure on a business to provide this option. It
requires other senior colleagues to be highly organised and supportive,” she said.
Global comment on female employment trends
April Mackenzie, global head - governance and public policy at Grant Thornton International, said: “Across Europe,
getting more women into senior management positions has been high on the political agenda for quite some time.
Governments have been vocal about addressing the imbalance and as a result businesses have been under real scrutiny.
This encouraging rise in senior women shows the effect this attention is starting to have.
“The steady drop-off we are seeing in the emerging markets is a real concern though. The worry is that we may be
reaching the point where women are underrepresented in senior management the world over.”
There are a myriad of cultural, economic and social barriers, which prevent women from reaching the top jobs, but rapid
urbanisation, which has accompanied rapid economic growth in emerging markets, could help explain why the proportion of
women in senior management is falling away.
Since 1978, China has experienced the largest internal migration in human history, with nearly 160m people moving from
the countryside into cities.[The Economist; from 25 February 2012 edition] The proportion of people living in urban
areas passed 50% in 2011, and is projected to hit 55% by 2020. Similarly in Mexico, the proportion of the population
living in urban areas is projected to rise from 74% in 2000 to 80% by 2020. [United Nations’ Population Division] This
is putting a huge strain on traditional family models.
April Mackenzie explained: “The movement into cities has begun to break down traditional models of extended families.
The in-built childcare infrastructure, which allowed children to be raised by grandparents, enabled women to work
full-time. This is being replaced by ‘Western-style’ nuclear families, which rely on one parent looking after the
children or the prospect of expensive childcare.
“Urbanisation presents more opportunities for more people, including women, in many different ways. But the challenges
it places on the family model appear to be having a disproportionately large effect on the ability of women to break the
glass ceiling and occupy senior management roles.
“Governments and business leaders in emerging markets need to start working now to address this decline. The last thing
we want to see is a race to mediocrity where the proportion of women in senior roles in these countries bottoms out and
stagnates for a number of years. Or indeed that these high growth economies lose talent because women in the burgeoning
rising middle classes opt out of the workforce altogether.
“There needs to be a public discussion now about the policies and practices that will enable and encourage women to
continue to progress in the workplace.”
The IBR suggests that offering flexible working conditions could help reverse this trend in emerging markets. Nearly two
thirds of businesses in the EU (65%), where the proportion of women in senior management roles is increasing, currently
offer flexible working. This is well ahead of Latin America (49%), the BRIC economies (36%) and Asia Pacific (32%).
April Mackenzie said: “Businesses in the emerging economies are lagging behind on the flexible working front. Greater
adoption of this might allow a greater proportion of women to make senior positions in the future, reversing the current
Biggest winners and losers
Of the 40 economies surveyed, businesses in Russia employ the most women in senior management (46%), ahead of Botswana,
Thailand and the Philippines (all 39%), whilst Italy ranks highest in Europe (36%).
Bottom of the table is Japan, where only 5% of senior management positions are filled by women, below Germany (13%),
India (14%) and Denmark (15%).
The biggest risers over the past 12 months include Turkey (25% to 31%), and the United Arab Emirates (8% to 15%),
results that suggest that the wave of economic liberalisation in the Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring could
have boosted the chances of women in the region reaching the top.
Notes to editors
The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of 12,000
businesses per year across 40 economies. This unique survey draws upon 20 years of trend data for most European
participants and nine years for many non-European economies. For more information, please visit: www.internationalbusinessreport.com
The research is carried out primarily by telephone interview lasting approximately 15 minutes with the exception of
Japan (postal), Philippines and Armenia (face to face), mainland China and India (mixture of face-to-face and telephone)
where cultural differences dictate a tailored approach.
Data collection is managed by Grant Thornton International's core research partner - Experian. Questionnaires are
translated into local languages with each participating country
having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork
is undertaken on a quarterly basis.
IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with
6,000 businesses across the globe conducted between November 2011 and February 2012.
The target respondents are chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives (title
dependent on what is most appropriate for the individual country) from 40 economies primarily across five sectors:
manufacturing (25 per cent), services (25 per cent), retail (15 per cent) and construction (10 per cent) with the
remaining 25 per cent spread across all sectors.
Group/regionEconomies included in IBRAsia-Pacific (APAC)Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, China (mainland), Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand,
VietnamAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, VietnamBRIC Brazil, Russia, India, China (mainland)European Union (EU) Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United KingdomG7 Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom,
United States of AmericaLatin America Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, PeruNordic Denmark, Finland, SwedenNorth AmericaCanada, United States of AmericaOtherArmenia, Botswana, Georgia, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates
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