Heather Roy

21 February 2018

Diversity in governance and management has been a hot topic for several years, both in New Zealand and elsewhere. Many interpret this as gender diversity – more women on boards, more women CEOs …

Well, I’m a woman and I’m looking for interesting roles on boards, but please don’t mistake the fact that I don’t want to be appointed as a token woman sitting around the table. I want to be appointed because I’m the best person for the role. And sometimes we (women and men) miss out on roles because we are not the best fit for an organisation, or we’ve not got the right experience or skillset for a particular board at that time.

What I am interested in is real diversity. By that I mean diversity of thought which comes from a range of areas – ethnic, age, gender as examples. The best boards in my view are those with a broad range of views relevant to the organisation. I also think that more experienced directors should feel an obligation to mentor and give opportunities to new governance entrants because this is how we will improve the quality of governance decision making in New Zealand.

With diversity in mind, I’ve been pondering Teresa Gattung’s odd remark last week at a forum discussing equal pay and gender diversity in business. Ms Gattung is an experienced and impressive former CEO and director and is committing much time to promoting the importance of the role of women in these settings. Very commendable, however I can’t help thinking that she undermined her own agenda by proclaiming during a Q&A session at the forum – when someone asked how Sir Ralph Norris would have faced Fletcher Building’s shareholder meeting this week had he been a woman, –  Gattung commented that the construction company would never have been in poor financial state had a woman been at the helm. “If a woman had been chairing Fletchers, that wouldn’t have happened,” she said.

Did she mean that any woman would have made a better job of chairing the construction giant? Or perhaps that she would have been more competent? Or that the downfall was purely due to a lack of female leadership? Any of these insinuations are really quite bizarre and I’m left wondering if this was just an opportunity for Ms Gattung to promote her current SheEO initiative. Sad if this is the case.  Is this any better than some of the male-domination behaviour that gender diversity campaigners claim to abhor?

By stark contrast I came across this YouTube clip last week of 101 year old British woman Mary Ellis talking about her experiences of piloting Spitfires during WWII.

No pretence that she was doing a better job than the male pilots, just getting on with it and showing she could do the same job.  I call that ‘leadership by example’ and believe that this is what actually makes a difference when it comes to influencing and helping other women get ahead.