Rau rangatira mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.
Kia ora tātou katoa.
Distinguished guests, warm greetings to you all.
Thank you for inviting me to be part of the long tradition of Vice-regal linkages with the Northern Club. I’m delighted to be here and to have an opportunity to speak.
In this 125th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand, I offer my congratulations to the members of the Club for electing your first female President – and Victoria, I wish you every success with your current initiatives to increase female membership.
As just the third woman to have been invited to join New Zealand’s Vice-regal club of 38, I recognise the significance of your appointment.
It is nearly two years since I was sworn in for a five-year term and so I thought I would speak about my role and in particular the area where I have some discretion about what I do.
As you will all appreciate, much of my role is prescribed – the ceremonial, constitutional and international aspects are set by letters patent, law and well established protocol. As representative of our Head of State I act on the advice of the Government of the day.
It is in the area of community engagement that each Governor General is able to exercise some indivual preference or discretion. Governors-General build on the legacy of a long line of predecessors who have brought different skills sets and goals to the position. Patronages have been accepted over the years and many of these have such a long historic link it would be hard not to continue them. And naturally each Governor-General has her or his own interests they choose to support.
One of the pieces of advice that I received from my predecessors was not to accept all invitations received, no matter how interesting they were, and to be careful not to overcommit. I now understand what they meant.
Just prior to taking up my role David and I worked to create a strategic plan to try and focus our area of community engagement. We set an overarching vision that all New Zealanders should value and celebrate creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership.
My focus is on promoting creativity, innovation, diversity and leadership because I see these as key to a sustainable, inclusive and prosperous future for all New Zealanders.
I will briefly explain our thinking behind this.
We showcase and celebrate creativity, because arts and culture are intrinsic to who we are and our sense of wellbeing – and artists have, since time immemorial, been enabled by the support of patrons.
We have held all kinds of cultural performances at Government House, We also host an artist-in-residence programme, and we have been able to showcase New Zealand visual art at both Government Houses in Wellington and Auckland, thanks to the generosity of various public and private art collections.
Creativity is also a focus because, now more than ever, the world needs people who can think outside the square, and think across disciplines. After all, Steve Jobs hired musicians, artists, poets and historians on his original Macintosh team. He knew instinctively that when you added arts to STEM disciplines, you produced STEAM, and things really got cooking.
Innovation is a focus because if we continue doing things the way we have been doing them, our way of life and our planet will not survive.
We need to find sustainable ways to live and to prosper, for the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities, our flora and fauna, our seas, our rivers, our land and our air. We want to encourage those people, businesses, and communities who are embracing this challenge.
As a nation of immigrants, we have a long history of innovation. For example, our first Polynesian inhabitants left behind familiar plants and resources and were able to devise a myriad of uses for harakeke – flax, and to discover medicinal uses for our native plants.
The innovation of early Europeans in New Zealand was driven by the tyranny of distance. Being a jack of all trades was a matter of survival. And it enabled pioneering women to participate on more equal terms than anywhere else in the world – because it was a matter of necessity.
Our 21st century innovators are a different breed, building on world-class research and technologies, and using their global connections to take us on new journeys of discovery.
One of the great privileges of my role is the opportunity to go to research centres and companies and see astonishing, cutting-edge initiatives and a commitment to find new solutions to intractable problems.
Businesses like RocketLab, which will change the way we interact with the world and the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, where cures for some of the cruellest types of brain disease are being developed.
Recently, we spent a day in Canterbury at Te Waihora catchment - Lake Ellesmere, where iwi, local government, farmers, and scientists have come together to work out what they can do, individually, and together, to restore the water quality, and to rehabilitate what was once a very rich population of flora and fauna in New Zealand’s fifth-largest lake.
It seemed to me to be a wonderful example of diverse perspectives engaging with each other, and a recognition that the region’s future wellbeing depends on embracing economic, social and cultural goals.
This kind of thinking is becoming more the norm, and I am particularly keen to see greater understanding and recognition of te ao Māori – the Māori world-view - in our strategic thinking.
Here in Auckland – Tamaki Makarau – you have the distinction of being the world’s largest Pasifika city, and you have one of the most diverse populations in the world.
Like many of the world’s great cities, Auckland is stimulated and refreshed by new waves of people bringing new ways of seeing, new ways of doing things, and a determination to succeed and create a better life for themselves and their families.
Yes, this constant influx is causing growing pains, and more and more innovative solutions will be needed to make this a more sustainable city for all its inhabitants.
My focus on diversity in this Suffrage 125 year means putting a particular spotlight on the role and status of 50 percent of the population - females.
We are fast approaching the 125th anniversary of the day that one of my predecessors, Lord Glasgow, reluctantly signed a new Electoral Act that enabled women to vote in Parliamentary elections. This anniversary is a good time to take stock of our progress.
The report card is mixed.
In my lifetime, there has certainly been great progress. Many more women have entered the professions, our armed services, and the world of business and politics. Some have been leaders in these disciplines and they have been admitted to clubs such as this.
But women of my generation are dismayed that progress has not been as great or as fast as we expected. It seems that when it comes to gender equity, we can’t take gains for granted, and if we are not careful, they can be lost.
In many cases we have seen a type of backsliding, a reversion to the previously accepted status quo. It can be described as moral licensing. We’ve done it once so we don’t need to prove we can do it again.
We have seen this phenomenon with the proportion of women on company leadership teams declining from what was already a modest representation. This year’s Grant Thornton annual Women in Business survey shows that women now make up 18 percent of senior leadership teams, down from 31 percent in 2004. NZ now ranks 33 out of 35 countries in the survey. Down from a top 10 ranking a decade ago.
Similarly, the gender pay gap remains stubbornly hard to eliminate, and it appears that the remaining differences in pay can only be ascribed to factors like conscious and unconscious bias.
Despite these depressing statistics, there is a new momentum in the air. The women’s marches were a world-wide phenomenon, and here in New Zealand, more workplaces are committing to eliminating the gender pay gap, harassment and bullying. I am encouraged to think that we have reached a tipping point.
Last evening I hosted the White Camellia Awards at Government House, recognising businesses that promote gender equality in the workplace. It was wonderful to celebrate organisations who are actively promoting equality through diversity and making a positive difference to their workplace environments.
But listening to one of our speakers, the founder of GirlBoss, 19 year old Alexia Hibertidou, describe her experiences as the only girl in her digital technology and advanced physics classes and how she had been dismissed and belittled by her classmates as a token female when she won an award – and hearing that these were her experiences in 2015 – that made me realise that the momentum for change still needs to be actively driven by us all.
That means continuing to talk about it and to call out discriminatory behaviour. It is up to every New Zealander to make sure that we stay on course.
Men joined women in advocating for change in women’s status 125 years ago. We need our men again to be champions for women if we are to achieve and retain lasting social change and put New Zealand back on the map as a world leader in the emancipation of women.
Diversity is about much more than gender, but if we can’t achieve gender equity, what hope do we have in overcoming the ethnic, cultural, religious and other forms of discrimination that divide us.
My concluding words are about leadership.
You are all leaders in your fields, and wield enormous influence. My appeal to you is to reflect on the challenges we face, in our communities, in the environment, in the gender relations space, and consider what you can personally do to help bring about positive change, and how you can galvanise others to join you in achieving that goal. And if there are ways that you can see to encourage and celebrate leadership – whether at the local, community, regional or national level – I will be very happy to work with you to do so.
Kia ora huihui tatou katoa.