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CEO honoured for gender equality

Friday 8 Mar 2013 9:33 a.m.

By 3 News online staff

A New Zealand business leader has been honoured by the United Nations for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

BNZ chief executive Andrew Thorburn was among five honourees.

Women now make up half of his executive team, at a time when a new survey has found that New Zealand is no longer a world leader when it comes to promoting women to senior management roles.

"We started with understanding that we had a problem," says Mr Thorburn. Fifty percent of the company's employees were women, but they weren't rising through the ranks into management roles.

"With so many women in New Zealand starting businesses and being very significant financial decision-makers, this just didn't make sense."

Mr Thorburn says while the board set targets, they don't necessarily agree with quotas.

"Our first target was about a third, because we felt that once we got to a third, it was going to create a massive momentum that's going to keep going. But our absolute belief is that appointing a person to the role, they must have the capability to do the job."

BNZ's policy now is when they're looking at candidates for a role, the shortlist must include at least one woman.

"But we're making the selection based on the role, and what it needs… and the person who's appointed must be able to capably deliver what's needed. That's absolutely essential."

He says having women around the board table gives a company an advantage over "old boys' clubs".

"I find when you have women around a table, and you're talking about an important issue, to get their lens – as well as men's lens, as well as other diversity lens – you get a better debate and decision."

So what has been holding women back in the past?

"That's a big question, but the most important part of the answer is that flexible work practises are crucial. We have a policy – all jobs can be flexibly worked, and all jobs are advertised that they can be flexibly worked… that made a big difference."

He also says women sometimes struggle to plan career paths, don't have the same business networks men often have, and weren't getting paid fairly.

"Women didn't understand where they could go, so we've made that clearer, where their career could go."

3 News

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