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Women in Leadership Day

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, GNZM, CVO, 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.

Thank you for your warm welcome and for inviting me to speak to you today.

It’s wonderful to be back in Hamilton, where I spent most of my school years.

You may be aware that arts and culture is a strategic priority for me in my term, so I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit this magnificent auditorium.

I am here today as Patron and strong supporter of the New Zealand Women in Leadership Programme.

As just the 3rd woman to be appointed Governor-General, it is not entirely surprising that I am interested in supporting initiatives that promote female empowerment.

As it happens, diversity is one of the priorities I have selected for my programme.

I welcome opportunities to celebrate and encourage the human potential represented in our diverse communities. And gender diversity should be the easiest to achieve.

As a young woman during the 70s, I was a fervent believer in the mantra of the time that ‘girls can do anything’, so it is rather disappointing that in 2017 we are still working on making that mantra a reality.

The political will for change has been there, and we have had the legislative mandate since 1975, but behaviours and attitudes can be slow to change.

In an ideal world, we would not need Women in Leadership programmes, or Women in Leadership Days, and the fact that we do, just confirms the old feminist adage that feminism is like vacuuming – you have to repeat it every so often.

At the time when I finished my law degree, it was difficult for a woman to get employment in a law firm.  The firms I applied to made it clear, by their actions, if not their words, that they were only interested in employing male law graduates.

As a student I had not really experienced discrimination, so that came as something of a shock.

Victoria University came to the rescue and I was fortunate to get a role as a Junior Lecturer– which has given me some insight into the working world of the women here today – although, somewhat out of date – at least I hope it is!

After completing my LLM and some OE, I did manage to get a role in a commercial law firm, and I became its first female partner.  I then took up an opportunity to go into corporate the corporate world where I was fortunate to have the opportunity to represent my company on boards such as Air New Zealand and Sky City.  In those days I generally I found that I was the only woman sitting around the board table.

The range of perspectives around the table was often rather narrow – and I often found it difficult to have a voice.   Thirty years on, this is still an issue as women comprise fewer than 20% of the directors of NZX listed companies, despite all the research that proves that diversity on boards has beneficial outcomes for organisations.

In 2009 I changed the focus of my governance career to the public sector, where gender diversity has been much more effectively embraced, so that 45% of Ministerial appointments to State sector boards are currently female.  And it shows.

All in all, I have been fortunate to have a varied and exciting career. Most recently, and prior to becoming Governor-General, I was a Crown Negotiator for Treaty Settlements.

The realisation that the movement towards gender equality was glacially slow, and indeed was regressing in some areas, led me to decide that I needed to be more active in promoting change. 

In 2009 , I was one of the founding trustees and board members of Global Women, which acts as a catalyst to transform and champion the leadership opportunities for women in New Zealand, recognising that diversity is a driver of business value.

More recently I was pleased to be the independent facilitator of the joint working group of unions, employers and government that recommended principles for the implementation of pay equity, set up following the Supreme Court decision in the Terranova case.  

The principles agreed by that Working Group and adopted by the Government, recognised that the relative underpayment of workers in female dominated work forces is still a significant issue in New Zealand.

I was disappointed – but not entirely surprised – to see that recent research into the pay gap between men and women in New Zealand concluded that 80% of that gap could be ascribed to ‘unconscious bias’.

As you all know, unconscious bias ascribes particular behaviours and skill sets to individuals according to their gender – thereby impacting on decisions around appointments to roles and promotions.

It’s the kind of thinking that encourages and expects women to play more of a pastoral, mentoring, or caring role than their male colleagues, thereby depriving them of opportunities to participate in activities and projects that would help them advance their careers.

And the catch is that if women do not display those nurturing characteristics, they are judged accordingly.

They can’t win!

As psychologist Annie Paul said “We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us.”

Unhelpful assumptions about women are not restricted to men. What can be done, beyond ensuring managers – male and female – have training to identify the extent of their unconscious bias?

The public sector is leading the way with continuous monitoring of progress for women in senior roles – and even more importantly, a commitment to reach certain targets. It would be helpful to see the same thinking extend to the wider state sector, as well as the private sector.

One thing I would urge women here to consider – and that is to have the confidence to put yourselves forward, to take leadership on projects, and if you are in a position of responsibility, to make sure you have left the ladder down for other women to climb out of the basement of the ivory tower.

By taking an active role, and putting into place the strategies advocated in the Women in Leadership programmes, you will be playing your part in making such programmes redundant in the future.

Kia ora, kia kaha, huihui tātou katoa




Last updated: 
Tuesday, 3 October 2017

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