David McLean: Why we need more women managers

David McLean, Westpac NZ Chief Executive
David McLean: Why we need more women managers

At first glance, it’s a fantastic time to be a woman leader in New Zealand.

As recent headlines tell us, three of our last five Prime Ministers have been women, along with our current Governor-General and Chief Justice.

But what does leadership look like closer to the shop floor? Are the other women among our population of 4.8 million doing as well?

It’s a question Westpac NZ has had a go at answering with new research looking into who fills management roles in companies across the country.

We asked Deloitte to survey 500 businesses about their leadership and attitudes to gender parity as part of a wider report looking into the benefits of diversity.

The result?

Tellingly, we learned that across New Zealand just 29 per cent of management roles are held by women – that’s fewer than one in three.

And, surveyed on how long it might take for women to occupy 40 to 60 per cent of management roles, one in four businesses replied that it would take more than five years.

Nine per cent of businesses answered “never”.

Many companies are doing great work to achieve greater parity, but many others are lagging.

The good news is that great benefits await companies which commit to increasing the number of women in leadership.

As part of its analysis, Deloitte worked out the economy could benefit to the tune of $881 million if men and women were equal in number in management.

It also found that increasing the proportion of management positions held by women would increase a company’s profitability.

At Westpac NZ, we’ve put a strong focus on increasing the number of women in leadership for many years. That’s enabled us to have 47% of our management roles filled by women, based on this survey’s criteria.

We know we’re stronger for the diversity of thought, experience and skills that women bring to our management team.

It’s for those reasons we want women – and their voices – at our top tables.

It’s only by them being there that our business practices are better informed, our customers better understood, and our younger employees better inspired.

We’ve got to that point by focussing on creating a pipeline of talent.

That’s meant redefining the way we recruit people, and introducing new flexible ways to work, as well as other measures.

But, perhaps the biggest driver of change has turning our goal into a policy and monitoring our progress - we’re a big believer that what gets measured, gets managed.

I’d like to say our work is done, but that’s not the case.

We’re now focussed on increasing the number of women leaders in parts of the business that have traditionally been dominated by men, such as technology.

Interestingly, 49 per cent of companies surveyed told us the main barrier to putting more women into top roles was a lack of talent.

However that seems at odds with the fact that more women are graduating with tertiary level qualifications than men?

The report authors correctly suggest that employers are still searching for people who look like their existing leaders – overwhelmingly male.

Essentially, unconscious bias – prejudices we’re unaware of, that exist in our subconscious – are holding women back.

We know the task of getting more women into management roles might appear daunting, especially for small businesses and those in male-dominated industries.

But Deloitte’s financial analysis, and the experience of companies like Westpac, tell us that it’s the right decision to make.

Elevating women employees has given us new eyes and allowed us to see our customers and our business more clearly.

I encourage more companies to join us on this journey.

Read the full report.


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