Governance NZ

What are the key challenges faced by female directors?

Limited opportunities to network, mum-guilt and unconscious biases were some of the biggest challenges faced by women in governance, according to three award-winning women board directors.

Sina Cotter Tait director at Collective Success and winner of the 2021 Women in Governance Awards sits on a range of infrastructure agencies, including the board of CEAS, the Engineering NZ Foundation and Te Waihanga (the Infrastructure Commission).

She said traditional pathways to the boardroom are often-times challenging for women as they required organisational and executive leadership experience.

Good opportunities were often times discussed outside of working hours, in semi-social contexts, limiting women’s abilities to engage, to further develop opportunities, she said.

“The world of governance is, in many ways, like the world of work – there can be incompatibilities with our commitments and identities as mothers, partners, daughters, and friends that we have to navigate,” she added.

Studies have shown that working mothers have the highest stress levels among all those in the workforce.

Covid highlighted the discrepancies when it came to women working from home, and looking after the household. Report launched by ASB in collaboration with NZIER highlighted that when it came to juggling home working with care responsibilities, women were more likely to do all or most of the housework and childcare.

Jessie Chan chairperson at RuralCo and winner of the 2021 Inspiring Governance Leader said while women have achieved so much in improving equality and advancing our careers, studies showed that women still do the majority of “homemaking” and childcare.

“We still have some way to go in normalising the sharing of childcare and “homemaking”,” she said. 

“Making time for our children and running home are still very important roles in the lives of working women, and we need to know that there can be a balance between both. We need to get away from the constant “Mum guilt” that society puts on us when pursuing a career.”

She said women have taken on careers, in some cases are now doing twice as much work.

For Claire Evans winner of the 2018 Emerging Leader award who holds commercial boards positions including Chair of Canterbury Linen Services, unconscious biases are one of the biggest challenges faced by women on boards.

Julie Hardaker chair of Women on Boards, the only organisation in New Zealand dedicated to women in governance agrees, and said many entry barriers to boards still exist for women.

She said there are  still attitudes today about gender and diversity that created barriers, and can discouraged women from taking up board roles - many who may have years of corporate and governance experience and a wealth of skills valuable to governance.

“Women on Boards works to highlight exceptional women and organisations that are dedicated to promoting gender diversity within their organisations and on boards.

“Through the Women in Governance Awards, we put a spotlight on over 100 women - winners and finalists, who have shaped the future of governance, and now sit on multiple public, private and not-for-profit boards,” she said.

“We know there are capable and talented women out there being overlooked. We are shortly launching our Governance Masterclass which provides essentials training for women looking to advance their governance careers and improve their governance knowledge and skills” 

“It offers a combination of education, practical training and networking opportunities for those who want to step up from leadership to governance,” she said.

Registrations are open for the Governance Masterclass: Stepping up from Leadership to Governance.