The face of NZ’s brave business future in the world? Men, men and more men

A recent international “innovation mission” was predictably and overwhelmingly dominated by men. To help organisers remedy such absurd and damaging imbalances, Anna Guenther and Jessica Venning-Bryan have produced a list for next time

A 50-strong trade delegation of New Zealand’s finest innovators and business people headed off recently to Israel. Their plan? An “innovation mission”, to learn from a land that has inspired entrepreneurship on many levels and to share our own knowledge as a scrappy start up nation.

Fifty of our finest: but where were the women? Judging by the NZ Herald story previewing the trip, there weren’t any. While the article was written by a woman, no women were mentioned as being part of the heavy-hitting delegation. (Let’s not even start on why, again, we’re Israel gazing.)

So we asked the simple question: which women were going?

Not an emotion women is business feel too often

Not an emotion women is business feel too often

After some investigation we discovered there were a few women in the delegation: nine out of 50, or 18%. Entirely and depressingly in line with the representation of women on boards of NZX listed companies in New Zealand, and the representation of women in senior leadership positions (a rate which is currently declining).

We sent a delegation to research, learn, and represent New Zealand’s innovation influencers, but we somehow forgot to show the world that we aren’t just a country run and informed by older white men.

Or are we?

When we commented on the lack of women on the delegation, one man decided to chip in with a great joke.


When told that we didn’t think joking about the lack of women was very funny, his informed retort was:


He seemed to not understand – that this is precisely the problem. That it is already happening. We are already picking people based on gender, ethnicity, background, age, the list goes on. Subconsciously we promote a certain form of success – hiring them, extolling them, paving the way for their ascent (since, that’s what we’re all about right, going up the fucking ladder?).

One of the most noxious forms of sexism, is denying there is a problem. Denying inequality is rife in New Zealand and the world, in the face of all the numbers, all the tumblrs, all the anecdotes and antidotes. Putting your head in the ground and denying is the biggest statement you could make to all women – saying “no, I don’t believe you” – is in fact, another oppression.

I understand, dear disbelieving man on Twitter, that the experiences women face every day are not your own. And, you might in your mind “hire the best person for the role”. But when underrepresented groups aren’t even on the same map as your country of success, you’ve got a problem. Fact.

Some other facts:

One in 10 employees report experiencing bullying, harassment or discrimination at work, although under-reporting is highly likely.

• Many studies have found that unconscious gender bias disadvantages women at work. Creativity, code quality, and performance reviews are just a few examples.

• International studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds of women will experience sexual harassment at work.

• 58% of university graduates are women, yet only 17% of directors of NZX listed companies are women.

We have an 11.7% gender pay gap in New Zealand. For the same jobs.

• The number of women in senior leadership positions at NZX listed companies has declined (from 21% to 19%)

• The number of women in studying computer programming has halved percentage wise since 1985 (from 37% to 18%)

• The top 50 CEOs in New Zealand are all men. All of them.

So it does matter who we invite to be part of international business delegations. Because women will remain inherently disadvantaged in business if the door is not opened to them.

We’ve taken it upon ourselves to make a list of 25 women we would have taken on such a business delegation. Women who are undoubtedly “qualified” as exceptional business leaders with a track record in growing innovative companies, managing substantial investment portfolios, doing international business, and inspiring and enabling the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Next time, organisers, you’re welcome to tap our list for ideas if you’re struggling to come up with names.

Cecilia Robinson, Group CEO, My Food Bag

Jackie Johnson, CEO, IAG

Dianne Forman, entrepreneur, investor and author

Claudia Batten, Executive Chairperson, and Co-founder,

Mary Quin, CEO, Callaghan Innovation

Katherine Corich, Founder & Director, Sysdoc Group

Mandy Simpson, COO, NZX

Victoria Carter, Chair, Auckland Arts Festival and Co-founder, CityHop

Anna Curzon, Managing Director, Xero

Michelle Dickinson, science educator, University of Auckland and OMG Tech Rangers (bonus, Michelle was on the trip!)

Suse Reynolds, Executive Director, NZ Angel Association

Viv Maidaborn, CEO, Unicef NZ and Co-founder, Loomio

Gosia Piatek, Founder, KowTow

Victoria Ransom, entrepreneur, multiple successful exits

Terry Shubkin, CEO, Young Enterprise Trust

Melissa Clark-Reynolds, entrepreneur and ONZM for services to innovation!

Debra Birch, GM Investments, Te Tumu Paeroa

Barbara Chapman, CEO, ASB

Adithi Pandit, Partner (business transformation), Deloitte NZ

Helen Anderson, professional director and former CEO, MoRST

Francesca Banga, former CEO, NZ Venture Investment Fund

Joan Withers, Professional Director

Nic Kennedy, Head of Innovation, PWC

Traci Houpapa, CEO, Federation of Maori Authorities

Mai Chen, Managing Partner, Lawyer

If we don’t start purposefully ushering women through the door, nothing will ever change.

One way we can all help fix this, is by pointing out when it’s not good enough, and help shoulder tap (in order to be it, you have to see it). But we also have to change structural inequities so it isn’t exponentially harder to be it even if you do see it.

We’re constructive types, so if you’re looking for a woman for a job, a board position, a media comment, or anything really, we’ve made a much bigger list too. It has over 560 inspiring women in New Zealand (and counting). Feel free to add your own suggestions. We want to stop stale, pale, and male being the default setting in innovation and business. Because it doesn’t have to be.

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