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Speech

Global Women Reception

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 29 November 2016
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.

Welcome to Government House Auckland. I am especially delighted to be able to host you all, in what is, effectively, the first event of my programme of community engagement in Auckland. In the two months since I was sworn in I have been here on several occasions – notably for the Naval Review 10 days ago and for various awards ceremonies and investitures.

But the community engagement part of my programme is where I get to select events and opportunities to pursue my own strategy for my term as Governor General.

Global Women was high on my list of priorities because I am keen to celebrate and promote diversity amongst New Zealand’s leaders, but also because I do feel a sense of pride in seeing how Global Women has developed into a significant organisation and a force to be reckoned with!

I think it was in mid 2008 when Justine and Faye approached me to test out an idea they had for establishing a group for women leaders – women who had already experienced leadership roles in our community and who would benefit from and enjoy a mutually supportive environment and who could also work to promote and develop aspiring women leaders to address the gender imbalance in our society.

I was intrigued with the idea and attracted by Justine and Faye’s drive and enthusiasm, though a bit hesitant about my own ability to contribute. To cut a longish story short, I did agree to be a part of the founding team, helped draft and incorporate the charitable trust and was a member of the initial board for the first two years.

You've come along way since then.

But some of the underlying issues and inequities that led to our commitment to establish global women do seem to be continuing and in some cases intractable.

We’ve made a difference, but there’s still lots more to achieve.

I am sure we all agree with Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, who said: We cannot succeed if half of us are held back.

The research just confirms what she says. Organisations that have greater representation of women at leadership level achieve better results.

I was fortunate to be educated at a time when feminism and its message of Girls can do anything was in the air. My generation experienced a quantum leap in terms of career options and personal choices beyond those available to our mothers, and I have been fortunate to follow a varied and rewarding career path.

However, I realise that career trajectories are not always so straightforward for women and in some ways I fear that progress may have stalled.

Dame Jane Campion, who by anyone’s standards is a high achiever, summed up something of these complexities when she said: Women today are dealing both with their independence and the fact that their lives are built around finding and satisfying the romantic models we grew up with.

That may go some way to explain why there have been many occasions in my career when I found myself to be the only woman sitting around the board table. The quantum leaps in gender representation have yet to occur there.

There are many reasons why that is not happening – but as our own experiences demonstrate, change is possible, and as a born optimist, I like to think that it will happen if we put our collective minds to it.

I chose to become involved in Global Women because I saw it as an opportunity to work with like-minded women and help bring about positive change.

Earlier this year I had the somewhat daunting task of being the independent chairman of the joint working group on pay equity. Established by the Government after the Supreme Court decision which found systemic underpayment of women in the aged care sector was in breach of the Equal Pay Act 1972, the working group comprised leaders from unions, the employers and the public sector. I feared it would be an impossible task.

In the result, we managed to develop a surprising degree of rapport and respect (once we banished the lawyers from the meetings) and I was thrilled to see our recommendations for dealing with pay equity issues adopted by the Government last week, virtually in their entirety. That was real progress, but it’s sad and rather surprising that it took 44 years after the passing of the original legislation to reach this point.

After just two months as Governor-General, I have become aware of another particular area where changes could be made and where Global Women could be a real catalyst.

Of the 10 investiture ceremonies where I officiated last month, just one had more female honours recipients than males. In fact I think one or two of you were there!

I am not suggesting that every ceremony should be like that. But I am suggesting that more women could be acknowledged at the top end of our honours. Looking at the guest list for this event and considering the vast experience and leadership represented here this evening, it is disturbing to me that fewer than 20% of the women here have received NZ honours.

To be in the running, women have to be nominated.

I suggest that you all know remarkable women who deserve public recognition for their achievements and their contributions to their fields. Nominating them for an honour is one way to help them get due recognition and normalise female participation in leadership roles. It seems to me that this is one small way of reinforcing the message that girls truly can do anything.

Looking ahead, I am with Sheryl Sandberg when she envisages an ideal future where there will be no female leaders – there will just be leaders.

Until then, I wish you all the very best as you work towards reaching that goal.

Kia ora, kia kaha, huihui tātou katoa.

And Merry Christmas. 

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 29 November 2016

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