The Hon Ruth Richardson - Women as an economic force - the new normal

Posted 27 June 2013

400x255 Hon Ruth Richardson

Former finance minister and now an international economic and public policy consultant, the Hon Ruth Richardson shares her views.

Consider my last 24 hours in the world of work. 

A full blown due-diligence session preparing the offer documents for a pending IPO.  Directors well and truly out-numbered by advisers, but in the legal ranks all five were women led by the chair of the firm. 

Segue to a later shareholders meeting, and again both legal advisers were formidable women. 

In transit from Auckland to Wanaka for some welcome mountain running and biking, a quick director recruitment conversation with a CEO who declared that he would love to work with an all women board. The two candidates are both women being sought for the most specialised slot on the Board – Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee. 

Women are showing their stripes in every facet of the economy. 

The entrepreneurial end of the spectrum – think Victoria Ransom of Wildfire and Linda Jenkinson of Les Concierges making it big time Stateside. 

The official end of the spectrum – Vicky Robertson, Deputy Chief Executive of the Treasury and Amanda Ellis, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

The innovative end of the spectrum - think Dr Mary Quin, CEO of Callaghan Innovation. 

The agribusiness domain – Juliet Maclean CEO of Synlait farms and Nicola Morris general manager of Fonterra China Farms. 

The Fourth Estate – think Fran O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s most formidable business journalist by a country mile. 

Sheer force of numbers tell some of the story – observe the critical mass of women emerging in every economic sphere. 

The way of working tells more of the story – the transformation of stuffy and stereo-typed work places into edgy, flexible and inclusive domains. 

But it is the power of innovation and the internet that is the new element to the story – the ability of women to play to their strengths with the tools at their disposal to do so. 

Traditionally it is as consumers that the economic power of women has been recognized – on the demand side as economists would say.

But it is on the supply side that women are now making their move. 

No longer does the world blink when it is a woman who takes the top job (Joan Withers), takes the tough stance (Angela Merkel) or takes on the establishment (Sheryl Sandberg). 

Globally as women are at the forefront of the push out of poverty, it is the micro-finance that empowers them and mobile banking that keeps their earnings safe. 

With 25% of much of the developed world’s young people who are unemployed, radically different thinking is called for the tackle this scandal. 

My bet, is that it is the young women who will be up to this challenge as by definition they have to think differently to make it. Their DNA is the dna of the new world of work - self employed, innovative, flexible, creative and part of a global wave that sees women to the fore.