Rau rangatira mā, e kui mā, e koro mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, warm greetings to you all.
It is a great pleasure for David and me to welcome you all to Government House this evening. The White Camelia Awards are an important acknowledgement of the New Zealand business community’s support for gender equity. I’m delighted to be able to add my support this evening.
In February 2012, the Women’s Empowerment Principles were launched here at Government House. Five and a half years later, 52 New Zealand businesses and organisations have signed up to the initiative and are using the seven principles to guide them in implementing gender equality strategies.
By becoming signatories, these organisations are sending a powerful message to all New Zealanders about the value of women in the workplace. Gender equity is good for business. There is a wealth of research that shows that businesses that have gender equality are more likely to be more profitable and have a healthier workplace culture.
Attention to gender equity also allows us to incorporate a wider range of experience into our workplace conversations. It makes unarguable business logic that if you limit your workforce to people of the same gender you miss out on half of the talent.
Today, September 19 marks the day 124 years ago that the then Governor, the Earl of Glasgow, signed the Electoral Bill that gave women the right to vote. We have come a long way since then. Kate Shepherd and those first suffragists would undoubtedly be amazed by the role women play in our society and the opportunities we have available to us.
New Zealand women are more equal now than at any time in New Zealand’s history and we are one of the 10 most gender equal nations in the world. That’s something we should be proud of. But when we look ahead and not back we realise there’s still a long way to go.
One area that needs attention is the gender pay gap. Now there has been good news in this area. The most recent figures show that the gender pay gap of 9.4% is at a five year low. However while that downward movement is a positive, after 124 years of working towards equality, the fact that women’s work remains relatively undervalued is simply unacceptable.
Another area of concern to me is business leadership. Despite increasing numbers of females graduating in all of the professions, the percentage of women in leadership, management or governance roles remains stubbornly low. Looking at my own former profession, women currently make up fewer than 20% of partners in law firms and one third of our judges, despite the fact that each of our law schools has produced a majority of female graduates for each of the past 25 years. I’m sure the statistics are similar or even worse in other professions.
The number of women in corporate governance roles is increasing but at a pace that is glacially slow. Last year women made up just 17% of the directors on NZX listed company boards.
We all have a role to play in unlocking the potential of everyone in our population. We can all keep the spotlight on these inequalities and we can act to address them, as with the 52 NZ companies who are signatories to the WEPs.
I would like to acknowledge the importance of the work of all the organisations represented here tonight – signatories and organisers – in empowering women. Thank you for helping to make a difference.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa