Back to top anchor

Vanessa Stoddard, Guest Speaker at International Women's Day morning tea

Issue date: 
Friday, 8 March 2019

Kia ora

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha Tena koutou, tena koutou tena koutou katoa

Her Excellency the Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy

What a privilege and an honour it is to be asked to speak today as part of the panel celebrating IWD 2019 – Balance for Better – Better the Balance better the world.

To my panel colleagues Michelle Huang and Dr Hiria Hape – it is a privilege to sit alongside you on this special day.

As I thought about what to share from my own career as a lawyer, business women, Chief Executive, Director, Chair, mum, wife, sister and friend as we celebrate Balance for Better, I couldn’t help but reflect on what has helped my success and how I can hopefully be a part of someone else’s success in the future.

There are 3 things – first family – especially my parents.  Second the amazing leaders I had early in my career who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself.  Third the amazing friends and colleagues I met along the way who were role models but also supporters – who encouraged and sponsored my success.

First my family.  As one of six children from a humble background in the South of the South Island – we grew up in a house smaller than the size of my garage.  My Dad left school at 14 to work on the family farm and yet his younger siblings were put through school and University.  Knowing he never had the opportunity to reach his full potential, I made it my mission to do so. Give everything a go, no matter how scary. My Mum worked her whole life until 85 – 65 years for one organization in New Zealand that to this day because they have no records going back that far, have not recognized her contribution adequately – and then there was her community and sports contributions.  I’ve watched how everyday New Zealanders, that truly make a difference in our communities, those like my mum, are often not thanked and recognized as they should be.  Having witnessed that, I have made it my personal mission to ensure all those that work for me have their service celebrated.  It is amazing how far the simple word “thank you” can make a difference in people’s lives.

Then to the amazing leaders who saw more potential in me than I saw in myself.  Yes, I worked incredibly hard.  As a law and commerce graduate, I was the one that studied every topic even when lecturers at Uni told us they would only examine 3 of the topics for the year.  I was the one that stayed up late to research a case to make sure if my employer grilled me, I knew all the answers.  I was the one with the attention to detail and who was so organized that I wrote lists about my lists.  And often as the only women at the executive table in male dominated industries, I worked hard to earn my place there, based on results and effort – not gender.  I know I may have earned the opportunities I was given but having leaders who encouraged me was the other part of the successful equation.  Just having the ability today isn’t enough.  One has to have the desire and the ambition – and sometimes that comes through others encouragement, especially for those of us who suffer from the imposter syndrome.  So, I’ve also made it my personal mission today to encourage others.   

I constantly tell women and girls to not undersell themselves.  Don’t give the recruiters a reason not to hire you – give them reasons they must hire you.  Believe in yourself.  Don’t worry about why you can’t do the job, focus on why you can do the job and put development plans in place to help you succeed.   Surround yourself with people who are better than you, different to you and who will challenge you.  As hard as it is, you will be a better leader and a better person from the diversity you recruit and embrace, from the biases you acknowledge and address and from the strength of your team.  As uncomfortable as it can be embracing diversity, the reward is priceless.  Sitting at a coffee table with Asian community parents from my daughter’s school only a couple of weeks ago, I was out of my comfort zone.  But they made me feel so welcome.  The more one does these things, the more we learn and the better leader we become.  Search out great role models, watch them, learn from them and become a great role model yourself. 

Don’t stand for inappropriate behaviour or patronizing behaviour.  For too long – and myself included – we stood by in workplaces and in boardrooms and watched the consequences of a lack of balance.  We can’t change the past but we can put a line in the sand and focus on the future.  We can say enough!  No more excuses!  No more saying there aren’t enough women available!  No more saying women lack confidence!  Balance is better and we need to create more inclusive workplaces to gain the value from that balance.  We need to be brave enough to speak up and say there needs to be more change in New Zealand.  Just as some of our images of the past are being challenged, like New Zealand’s clean green image – just because we were first to give women the right to vote and have had amazing female role models in our Prime Ministers and Governor Generals, the fact is, we aren’t where we need to be today on diversity and inclusion.  We need to face up to it and not keep hiding from some of New Zealand’s uncomfortable truths.  We need more great leaders to push beyond activity into seeing real movement in balance.  Those leaders who took a punt on me, we need more of them pushing harder for Balance in our workplaces!

And thirdly to the colleagues and friends who not only encouraged me, but opened doors for me as referees and sponsors – more than just mentors, who encouraged me in difficult career transitions to hang in there – thank you!  An unfortunate side of New Zealand’s culture is that too often we focus on and remember our mistakes and the hiccups of others - when things go wrong – rather than the years of contribution and results when things went right.  We’ve seen examples of this in recent times in the business community.  Why is this?  Research tells us great leaders make mistakes, but they learn from them and come back wiser and stronger – a real attribute of successful world entrepreneurs in particular.  But in New Zealand, if you get it wrong – it can define you.  I think that makes New Zealanders risk averse and constrains our innovation and aspirations.  I think as a nation and as a people, we need to reflect on this. 

I want to thank everyone who stood by me when I didn’t quite get it right, when I made a mistake, when I could have done something better.  Your support made me a better leader – a better person.   I think we can all do better at putting an arm around our colleagues and friends when things don’t quite go to plan – don’t let it define them.  If we want balance, we need to establish a better environment in New Zealand for supporting our colleagues when things don’t quite go to plan but they did their best.  The media have a big role to play in this regard.  Global Women has been an amazing network to me.  To those of you here today – thank you!  Continue doing your great work in the diversity and inclusion space and supporting your colleagues, those leaders and champions and all the girls and women coming through the pipeline who could do with a hand.  We all know Balance is Better, but let’s get better balance by holding our hands out for others.  So many have done that for me and it’s my mission to do that for others and be brave enough to respectfully call out those not pushing for better balance.

I’ve had a lot of men and women tell me what I can’t do in my career, but I’ve had a lot who have told me what I can do.  We can’t all be Wonder Woman but we can be wonderful women – wonderful leaders – holding out our hands for better balance and to support and help other girls and women achieve their hopes and dreams!

To my parents and family – thank you for the inspiration

To my leaders – that you for the stimulation and activation

To my friends and colleagues – thank you for the invigoration and consolation.


Last updated: 
Monday, 11 March 2019

Help us improve the Governor-General website

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the Governor-General website.

17 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.