New Zealand’s gender inequality – How are we doing?

Avatar photo

Cat Mules

Women rock, obviously, so why is there still a serious lack of women in leadership?

There is no doubt gender diversity is in some ways improving. The latest McKinsey Women in the Workplace report shows a jump of 21% commitment to diversity in the past five years, across senior leadership and management groups, as well as amongst men.

But despite women being qualified and ambitious, aspiring to be take senior leadershipthey continue to be paid less, promoted less,  and are less likely to strive for high-power roles.

Where we are at now?

In many respects New Zealand is setting the bar in its gender equality efforts, ranking seventh among 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Yet New Zealand also is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world for women in senior leadership, according to 2018 professional network research – this despite global indications that women aspire to lead.

Let’s face it – women have always had it tough, and continue to do so. Stats NZ June 2020 quarter labour market statistics show that women are bearing the brunt of job losses in the economic down-turn triggered by Covid-19.

The June quarter data of employment rates was largely was distorted by the Covid-19 lockdown, showing women as accounting for 10,000 – or 90 percent – of the drop in total employment loss.

Fortunately, New Zealand women are pulling together to tackle this wicked problem.

Groups like The Women’s Collective, run by Taryn and Sasha Klajkovic, hold regular events to connect and empower women. Another proactive group is Co.OfWomen. Founded by Tara Lorigan this group has been specially formed to exchange business resources and support between women.

In the technology industry, TechWomen, with leadership from Deloitte, FMG and Microsoft, aims to inspire and support.

When the workplace fuels and discriminates

The idea that women are not as valuable as their male counterparts in the workplace is frustratingly hard to shake.

It starts in early childhood and tends to be reinforced by schools, parents and media. It leads to the ‘wicked problem’ of the gender pay gap in adulthood – as we repeat stereotypes in interactions across multiple contexts, and are unclear on how to resolve the issues that arise. 

It’s especially visible in the workplace, with jokes, dismissive labelling, lack of leadership models and preconceived expectations just some of the reasons why women face an uphill battle in having their full potential realised in the workplace.

There’s every indication that the problems of gender inequality run deep – with McKinsey’s research finding few managers see gender diversity as a high priority, and far fewer are actively working to improve diversity and inclusion.

How do we fix things?

Employees are more likely to see companies with a strong hiring and performance review approach in place as fair.

But in McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2019 research in collaboration with LeanIn.Org, only 6 of 3236 companies report they do all of the following: establish diversity targets, require diverse schedules for hiring and promotions, set clear and consistent evaluation criteria prior to beginning review processes, and make unconscious bias training for employees involved in hiring and performance reviews compulsory.

1. Be gender diverse in hiring and promotions

The problem begins at the point of recruitment.

Current leaders are overwhelmingly men who prefer to select others who they perceive as similar to themselves or with whom they have positive interpersonal relationships.

For those companies looking for a clear road map to support and advance women’s position in the workplace, they should ensure their case for gender diversity is compelling. McKinsey explains this will involve ensuring their formal hiring, promotions and reviews are sensitive to gender bias.

The New Zealand Police is an example of a company with an ambitious diversity target: to have 50% of female recruits among its 11,900 staff by 2021. “We have made significant progress in recent years toward this – 2015 was the first year where a third of recruits were women – but we still have a way to go,” Deputy Chief Executive – People, Kate Ryan has said.

2. Support – and encourage support from – managers

Managers have a strong influence on how employees view their day-to-day opportunities. To have the most positive impact, McKinsey says managers should proactively help them manage their career, showcase their work, and advocate for their getting new opportunities on a regular basis.

While most managers do provide this type of career support, they don’t do it consistently – with McKinsey finding only one in four employees say managers help them build their career, and one in three say managers advocate for new opportunities for them.

Managers also must be equipped with the tools, training and encouragement from company heads they need to fully support their team members.

Senior manager at PWC NZ, Erin Ventor, explains how support from upper management involves a truly flexible approach to working. “Because PwC has given me the opportunity to work flexibly,” she has said.

“I really appreciate that and therefore it makes me feel that PwC is investing in me, and as a result, I am more committed to them.”

3. Encourage mentorships

McKinsey explains organisational mentoring is lacking for both women and men.  Fewer than half of the employees at the manager level or higher actively mentor others, with only one in employees say they have a mentor.

While less than a third of employees say they have the mentor support they need to advance their career – encouragingly it’s a jump from a quarter of employees reporting having a sponsor a year ago.

Julie Koespell, digital marketing leader and former ForbesWomen contributor, argues mentorship is one of the surest ways to accelerate career advancement, and employees with sponsors are more likely to get having opportunities to grow and advance.

Gender diversity in the workplace works both ways. Employees care about gender diversity too: they are happier and plan to stay at a gender diverse company longer, increasingly so with younger generations who are more likely to notice bias in the workplace.

New Zealand companies are taking some powerful measures to improve their gender diversity with greater traction, like Spark NZ’s Blue Heart programme that involves a support platform EmpowerED and Air New Zealand’s career outreach programme.

And the latest Pew Research Findings show the world cares about gender equality more than it ever has before.

Maybe it’s a good time to ask. Do you?

Avatar photo

Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.


See Profile

Microsoft is a technology company whose mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. We strive to create local opportunity, growth, and impact in every country around the world.

You might also like

[ajax_load_more id="9462509724" container_type="div" post_type="post" posts_per_page="6" post__in="" pause="false" placeholder="true" scroll="false" button_loading_label="Loading" button_done_label="No results" no_results_text="No results"]

Our Vendors

Subscribe to
Gender diversity in the 2020 workplace - How are we doing?

Get the latest news content in your inbox each week