One Question Quiz
The New Zealand Rugby board the year Sport NZ announced a gender diversity requirement for boards (Image: NZR)
The New Zealand Rugby board the year Sport NZ announced a gender diversity requirement for boards (Image: NZR)

OPINIONSportsSeptember 14, 2022

How much money would you give up to not have women on your board?

The New Zealand Rugby board the year Sport NZ announced a gender diversity requirement for boards (Image: NZR)
The New Zealand Rugby board the year Sport NZ announced a gender diversity requirement for boards (Image: NZR)

For New Zealand Rugby, the answer is at least $280,000.

Being on a board can’t be that fun. The meetings are long and either tedious or tense or somehow both. It’s not glamorous and for women and minorities in particular, it can be a constant tug of war between wanting to enact change and wanting to not be miserable all the time as the one advocate for your particular community. But it’s also vital to the growth and sustainability of organisations to have a diversity of perspectives advising on major decisions.

Unfortunately, the New Zealand Rugby board continues to struggle to achieve the first level of diversity (women), even when hundreds of thousands of dollars are up for grabs to achieve almost 50% women on the board. The organisations has just been penalised $280,000 from Sport NZ for not achieving 40% female representation on its board. Isn’t that embarrassing?

In June 2018, Sport NZ announced that all New Zealand sporting bodies would be expected to reach a minimum requirement of 40% self-identified females on their boards by December 2021. It would be a formal condition of Sport NZ investment in any given code. At that time, this is what the New Zealand Rugby board looked like.

New Zealand Rugby board as at May 2018 (Image: NZR)

To put it mildly, they had their work cut out for them. The next year, the board remained unchanged except for the addition of Sir Michael Jones in place of Glenn Wahlstrom. By the start of 2020, the board had reduced in size to nine members, reducing the number of women required to meet the 40% threshold from five to four. Unfortunately the sole female member remained Farah Palmer, arguably the most recognised name in women’s rugby until very recently (see: the Farah Palmer Cup).

Throughout 2020, a concentrated effort began. The board reached the dizzying heights of three women and seven men but that didn’t last long. Jennifer Kerr and Nicola O’Rourke left after short tenures and this year two whole other women joined: Otago Rugby board chair Rowena Davenport and former governor-general and serial board member Dame Patsy Reddy. So close! At the December 2021 deadline (and now), New Zealand Rugby has failed to find four women to be on its board in the same year that the country hosts, for the first time, the women’s rugby world cup.

Some might argue that more men play rugby and also that men bring in more revenue so should have more of a say on the board. By that logic, half the board should be Pacific people instead of the current reality of no Pacific people on the board (eight people, Jones departed) or in the executive team (eight people). As of 2018, 65% of senior rugby players in Auckland were Pacific, yet the board appears to be 100% Pākehā. But that’s a discussion for level three of diversity. New Zealand Rugby is still stuck on level one.

Is the job so bad that no one wanted it? There’s certainly plenty of women on provincial rugby boards now. Is it because board members are made to wear those suits, which were clearly designed for an all-boys school First XI? Board chair Stewart Mitchell downplayed the penalty as it would “not impact our current work streams in the professional or community game.” Oh but wouldn’t that money have been nice to, I dunno, invest a little more in, I dunno, the women’s game? They could’ve paid a woman a heap of cash on the sly to sit in on those meetings and wear the ill-fitting blazer and still had more than a hundred grand to keep.

Mitchell seemed unfazed but it’s genuinely embarrassing that of 65 sporting boards in the country, New Zealand Rugby was the only one that failed to meet the 40% gender balance requirement. If they meet the requirement, they get the money back, but the longer it takes, the more money is withheld.

Sadly, with rugby being the biggest money sport in the country, this type of penalty isn’t enough of an incentive to do something that should be happening by default. As Stuff noted, the new commercial board at NZR is off to a bleak start, with two of nine (including Reddy, again!) being women. Perhaps someone on that commercial board could advise on the commercial opportunities of not losing $280,000.

Keep going!