Bold approach suggested for women directors
A director of one of the world's largest companies, Exxon Mobil Corporation, made a provocative observation of New Zealand listed companies this week.
None of them have three female directors on their board.
"More than one woman is needed around the board table to make an impact," Henrietta Holsman Fore told a group of directors in Auckland.
"One woman is the invisibility phase, two women is the conspiracy phase and three women is mainstream," she says.
As New Zealand opened a chapter of the international Women Corporate Directors network, she suggests the three-women target could be a goal the group might like to set.
Mrs Fore is co-chairwoman of WCD internationally, a network of 1400 female directors of public and large private companies who have joined through personal invitation.
New Zealand is now the 43rd chapter of the WCD.
Members can network at its events worldwide, receive information about governance and key issues facing directors globally and learn of opportunities for women on the boards of companies around the world.
WCD has a goal of its own: to see the number of female directors on international boards double from the current 7% over the next two years.
The large numbers of private companies in China, India and Africa considering going public would create tremendous opportunities for women on boards, Ms Fore says.
And New Zealand women directors were strong candidates to seize these opportunities given our close proximity to Asia.
"Asia is a strategicially significant market now, and knowledge of markets in Asia provides a good opportunity for New Zealand directors."
A reputation for fiscal prudence during the global financial crisis also boded well.
"International companies will be interested in New Zealand board members because of that."
WCD New Zealand is co-chaired by former prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley and former chief executive of the Securities Commission Jane Diplock.
Speaking at the WCD launch on Thursday night, Ms Diplock said her new role as a director of the Singapore Exchange came about at the launch event for WCD in Hong Kong.
One of the speakers had a brief to find a new director for the Singapore Exchange.
"Had I not been there, would my name have floated to the top of the list for potential directors? I doubt it," she says.
Ms Diplock did not give views either way on whether New Zealand should adopt a quota system for female directors on boards, but said fears quotas would lead to token female appointments had not eventuated in Europe.
New Zealand has so far steered away from quotas, but the NZX is considering adopting gender disclosure requirements, which would see listed companies disclose the make up of the board and report on goals to increase diversity.
"The threat of a quota can almost be as effective as the quota itself, so watch this space," Ms Diplock says.
Dame Jenny says New Zealand needed more female directors working internationally, bringing business back to New Zealand.
She hoped the launch of WCD here would boost the pool of female directrors and the number of New Zealand companies which wanted to go global.
An immediate focus for WCD New Zealand will be on building connections to female directors across the Tasman.
Institute of Directors chief executive Ralph Chivers said rather than being just another voice in the gender diversity space, a local WCD chapter would offer an international perspective to the conversation about corporate governance.
The network's strength was the opportunity to network with leaders in other countries and in promoting boardroom opportunities in other countries.
WCD's standard is that 85% of its members are directors of public or large private company boards, with the expectation the other 15% will soon do so.
The launch of WCD New Zealand was sponsored by KPMG and leadership advisory firm Heidrick & Struggles.
Henrietta Holsman Fore
Mrs Fore was the first women to have the roles of administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and director of United States Foreign Assistance, responsible for managing $39.5 billion of US foreign assistance annually.
Before that she was the 37th director of the US Mint in the Department of Treasury, managing the world's largest manufacturer of coins, medals and coin products.
She has also managed a number of private companies and is now the chief executive of manufacturing, consulting and investment company Holsman International.