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Australian High Commission - Women in Leadership speaker series

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 28 March 2018
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, QSO

Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei,

tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.

Kia ora tātou katoa.

I specifically acknowledge:

Dame Quentin Bryce, former Governor-General of Australia. Also, His Excellency, Mr Ewen McDonald, High Commissioner of Australia and

His Excellency Mr Mario Bot, High Commissioner of Canada - tēnā koutou katoa.

It is a great pleasure to be here today. It’s wonderful to see so many next-generation leaders in the same room.

I have to admit, when I saw today’s topic “Commanders in Chief: Representing the Nation,” I did wonder if I should turn up wearing something a little more ‘Commander’-like.

The Royal New Zealand Navy has gifted me a rather splendid sword, and I was tempted to accessorise.  However it does make getting out of the car a bit tricky so I left it at home.

Sword or not, Commander in Chief is one of the many roles of the Governor-General.   However, if you ask the average New Zealander what the Governor-General does, they’re more likely to say hands out medals or dismisses the Government.

There is some truth to this. In the first year and a half of my term, I’ve handed out quite a few medals and have even dismissed the Government.  Just the once though, much to the disappointment of some of Government House’s regular correspondents, I’m sure.

Dismissing the Government is of course part of the standard procedures surrounding the General Election.  I didn’t actually go rogue.  It is one of the few occasions that the constitutional powers are invoked.  Those occasions aside, Governors-General, mostly stand apart from the political domain.

At first sight, the requirement to remain outside of politics may seem like an impediment to making much of a contribution to New Zealand society.  What I have found though, is that soft power can be a change maker. It’s a positive force for good, bringing with it the opportunity to influence and make connections.

It’s a force that has been used in many different ways over the years.  It wasn’t too long ago that the role of the Governor-General was much more formal, in line with the protocol and ceremony that attended the British Empire.  There are any number of photos of my esteemed predecessors, complete with plumed hat, shaking hands and giving speeches at town halls and A&P shows all around New Zealand.

In the 1960s, the winds of change were blowing.  Our first New Zealand born Governor-General, Sir Arthur Porritt, was appointed.  Slowly the idea of New Zealand being a Little Britain began to recede from public consciousness and New Zealand’s Governors-General began to do things their way.

Sir Denis Blundell got rid of the plumed hat.  Sir Paul Reeves introduced tikanga to Government House.   Dame Cath Tizard became the first female Governor-General and Sir Anand Satyanand became our first Governor-General of Fijian-Indian descent.

From this distance, none of these events seem particularly earth shattering but, at the time, they each represented a stamp of approval by The Establishment for societal change.  Sir Denis signalled a move away from the formality of English tradition.  Sir Paul opened the door to inclusion and bi-culturalism.  Dame Cath showed that women were more than capable of carrying out the role.  Sir Anand demonstrated that we were an increasingly diverse nation. 

As for me, well, I do have a first - I’m the first New Zealander in the role who has not been selected from the ranks of the Military, the Church, the Judiciary, politicians or diplomats.  I think it’s a further step towards ‘normalising the role’.  

This is important in a society that is developing and changing as quickly as ours.

Equally as important is the Governor General’s role as Head Cheerleader of New Zealand Inc.

Unlike politicians, who are often tasked with pointing out or dealing with the negatives, Governors-General get to accentuate the positives.  There are wonderful stories of innovation, achievement, courage and inspiration that deserve to have the spotlight shone on them.  It’s important that we celebrate what’s best about us as a nation – because if we don’t, who else will.

Something that I am very happy to champion and promote is the push for gender equality in the New Zealand workforce. New Zealand has a great history of female empowerment but at the moment, other countries are doing far better.  Yes, we were the first country in the world where women could vote but recent figures open us up to accusations of resting on our laurels.

As many of you will know only too well, the proportion of women in private sector leadership positions in this country has hit an all-time low.  Despite the exemplar of our public service, where we will have 50% female representation in senior leadership roles by 2020, in the private sector, women make up just 18%.  That is compared to 31% in 2004.  We’re going backwards in terms of women’s participation at the top levels.

We may be making more headway in terms of directorships of NZX companies but not much.  Last year 22% were held by women, a paltry increase of around 10% over a decade.  Compare that to Australia, whose 8.3% of ASX directorships in 2009 have more than tripled to 26.2% this year.

Women are better educated and better equipped for the workforce than at any time in our history and yet we are not seeing this reflected in terms of our participation. I feel like I say this at every function I go to involving a mostly female audience - despite the incredible advances we have made there is still work to do!

Discrimination still exists but where it once used to be visible, it has now gone underground.

How do we ameliorate unconscious bias?

How do we counteract micro-aggressions?

How do we battle internalised misogyny?

Unspoken and unwritten rules are the barriers women need to break down now.

For myself, I would like to represent a nation whose organisations accurately reflect the demographics of its society – gender, ethnicity and culture.  My generation has had its go – yours is the generation now being tasked with making that happen.   

Governors-General are not supposed to lead the storming of the barricades but when gender equity is achieved in New Zealand I’ll be here to celebrate with you.  My term ends in 2021 though, so you’d better get moving!

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa


Last updated: 
Wednesday, 28 March 2018

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