Sunday, 27 October 2013

How Women Add Governance Value

New Zealand's Ministry of Women’s Affairs posted a report and an article recently explaining why it was important to have women in leadership positions.

They detailed several ideas. Diversity has become an international priority once more (as it was becoming until the 2007 global economic crisis put it on the back-burner). Having women at the 'men's only' table brings diverity of thought. Boards with women in governance roles tend to have better board and organisational performance. Women apparently enable better leveraging of human capital. When women are involved, the interests of women (such as minorities, family, children and women themselves) are better taken into account and appear to be factored into strategy (I recently came across an infographic that suggests that women are more people-focused, men are more task-focused. If that is legitimate, then this partially explains this last; Career Assessment Site, n.d.).

The really interesting thing about what the Ministry of Women's Affairs has to say is that, while it was very cogent and well supported by research, I think they missed the main point. To me, the main reason why we need women, other ethnicities, life stages, ages, professions and viewpoints is to accurately reflect the society around us. Having a organisation that truly reflects the diversity of the population you live in and market to means that you effortlessly stay in step with that society. As society moves and changes, so too does the inside of your organisation.

You don't get left behind: you don't become a dinosaur. The mix of people, views and ideas constantly keep you fresh. Society changes: you change.

But when our organisation is made up solely of "people like us", as we age, our ideas are likely to become quite concrete and out of date with where society is currently at. We get left behind. We lose our relevance, and the rest of the world moves on. In a company, this either becomes "Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death" quite quickly (Collins, 2009) or requires a massive corrective effort.

The NZ Rugby Union in the 1990s became so obsessed with professional athletes that they forgot to invest in grassroots sport. Their board was made up of ex-All Blacks who were all focused on an end goal: winning the World Cup. As a result, there was part of a decade where there were fewer high calibre players coming through to elite sport, because leaders hadn't focused on where those elite players came from. They lacked diversity of thought at the top table, alienated their adiences by not having systems to encourage little Jimmy or 'Jimmess' to start playing rugby at school, ignoring the needs of the 40% female fans... and soccer gained a much greater following as a result. Rugby recovered, but not to its former glory, and it still isn't proving a fast learner. They need to remember the imperative: be diverse or "Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death" will likely result... or the cost in correction resource spend will be huge.

The article "Why women in leadership" from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs states that "groups that are more mixed will consider a wider range of issues, from a variety of perspectives, and generate more innovative solutions" (2013a). Pity they forgot "and keep us up to date". Something for all of us to remember.

  • Career Assessment Site (n.d.). Myers Briggs: Get to know your type. Retrieved 27 October 2013 from
  • Collins, Jim (2009). How the Mighty Fall: And why some companies never give in. USA: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (pp. 20-22)
  • Ministry of Women’s Affairs (2013). Realising the opportunity: Addressing New Zealand’s leadership pipeline by attracting and retaining talented women. NZ: Government. Retrieved 10 October 2013 from
  • Ministry of Women's Affairs (2013a). Why women in leadership. NZ: Government. Retrieved 27 October 2013 from 


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