The chairman of a large Kiwi agricultural company is asked why there aren’t any women on his corportate board.
“There’s no place for sheilas in this conservative, provincial boardroom, apart from making the tea,” is his gobsmacking response.
That’s the introduction to a piece on women in business in the April issue of Next.
It wouldn’t have surprised me if the comment had been made early to mid last century but the magazine dates it as 2002.
Given we had our second female Prime Minsiter by then and other women in prominent public roles, I’d have hoped that outdated attitude to a woman’s place might have been consigned to history more than seven years ago.
Stats show that women are still under represented in the upper echelons of business but I’m not so concerned by the numbers as the attitude.
Whether women are sitting at board tables isn’t as important to me as whether they could be – both by having the skills and abilities required, and because gender isn’t an issue in elections and appointments.
But the two are related and the low numbers do suggest that regardless of qualifications and experience, having a y chromosome makes some candidates for directorships and management more equal than others.
However, the news isn’t all bad. A friend employs a lot of people and more than 80 percent are women. That’s partly a reflection on the nature of his business, but he said it’s also because they’ve found women in senior roles perform at least as well as if not better than men.
His explanation for that was that, having had to work harder and smarter to prove themselves, women continued to work that way.
But if that’s the case, does that mean it it’s still harder for women to get to and stay at the top? If it does, then the attitude to women hasn’t moved nearly far enough from the one illustrated by the opening quote.