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White Camellia Awards

Good evening everyone.

Next year marks 125 years since women in New Zealand were first given the vote.  And since women in the world were first given the vote.

Imagine how impossible that must have seemed.  In Judith Devaliant’s wonderful 1992 biography of Kate Sheppard she traces the suffrage campaign in New Zealand.  

Kate Sheppard was indeed a remarkable woman.  She was the leader in the franchise campaign.  Her intellectual ability, her tact, charm, energy and determination all helped to place her there.

During the long years of the campaign to secure suffrage, during the last year, having been disappointed on at least two previous occasions when it seemed as if Parliament would pass the Bill, she and her colleagues in other regions assembled a petition signed by 25% of all women then living in New Zealand and rolled it out in Parliament.  Imagine the drama of that!

Seddon, as we all know, was an incorrigible chauvinist and women were finally given the vote but there was only six weeks to go before enrolment closed for the coming election.  In a time when it took days to get from Christchurch to Auckland Kate and her colleagues again achieved the seemingly almost impossible feat that when the roles closed 109,461 women had been enrolled out of a total then adult female population of 124,439 women.  Absolutely incredible.  All women could enrol to vote, not just wealthy women and not just white women. No goal that we could possibly imagine as a group of Kiwi women today is impossible to achieve, in the face of what the women who went before us achieved.

After Kate and her colleagues secured votes for women in 1893, following a 14 year campaign, they identified their next highest priorities as pushing to allow women to become MP’s, which took a further 25 years, the economic independence of married women, the right for women who were divorced to retain custody of their children, and equal pay for work of equal value.

125 years later we are still waiting for the latter.  

On September 1st 2017, Statistics New Zealand announced that the gender pay gap was 9.4%.  It was 9.1% in 2012.  It has reduced since 1998 when it was 16.3% but basically progress has stalled in the last decade.

In March 2017 the Ministry for Women released research showing empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand which looked at the causes.  Only 20% is explained by differences in education, occupations or industries that men and women work in, or the fact that women are more likely to work part time.  80% is driven by “unexplained factors”, conscious and unconscious bias.  Next time someone says to you that the difference is explained by men and women working in different industries, women taking time out for child rearing, challenge them.  This is simply not the case.

While the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranks New Zealand 9th out of 144 countries, it shows we have tumbled in the gender parity stakes over the past decade.  Since 2006 we have dropped from 7th to 9th overall and we have experienced significant drops in every sub-category, and for working mothers the situation is worse.  

Statistics New Zealand data released in February shows there is a clear motherhood penalty with Dads earning 17% more than Mums.

In Chimamanda Adichie’s wonderful book “We should all be Feminists”, she points out that if we see the same thing over and over again it becomes normal.  As Aunt Lydia pointed out in episode 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale (which by the way is a fantastic book, move and television series and is available on Lightbox if you haven’t watched it you should) that which does not seem normal today can seem normal as time goes on if it becomes our reality.   If we keep only seeing men as heads of companies and as leaders it starts to seem natural that only men should be heads of companies.  As Adichie has pointed out, the person more qualified to lead is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, the more innovative.  There are no hormones for these attributes.  A woman is as likely to be as intelligent, innovative and creative as a man.  

We do not value women having an equal seat at the table in business, in large business in particular.  The April 2017 New Zealand Census women on boards shows 22% of board roles in the top 100 companies are held by women.  But 25% of those 100 companies have no women on their boards at all. We have evolved but our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.

Women are paid less than men in every country in the world.  It is like this in New Zealand because we all accept it.  Ultimately we are all part of the system and to overcome problems in complex systems we need to take concerted action.  

Companies should commit to measuring the problem and making structural and systems changes.  We must show leadership in our own hiring choices and we need comprehensive pay equity legislation.  

Women are still too invested in being liked, we don’t teach boys to care about being likeable. Women talk about mentoring, men want high level sponsors who can directly get them in to the big jobs!

Something that has changed since Kate’s time is the rise and rise of entrepreneurs.  Arguably the globally most admired business person is no longer the CEO of a large powerful Fortune 500 company but someone who built their business from scratch.   This seems all good until you look at the psychology surrounding this.  Investors wanting the next “unicorn” - billon dollar company.  If that is the only focus then you end up with companies like Uber and their very public cultural problems.

Money is currency.  It is based on the word current and meant to be in flow, not held on to by a few.  The winner takes all mindset means that 8 men now have the same wealth as half the planet, 3.5 billion people.

I am involved in bringing a new concept to New Zealand called SheEO, the brainchild of Canadian Entrepreneur Vicki Saunders.  It’s business but it’s also Radical Generosity.  The goal is to reach 100,000,000 activators, 10,000 women led ventures and a billion dollar perpetual fund to support women for generations to come by getting cohorts of 500 women to invest $1,000 each distributing that money as decided by those 500 women to 5 women led ventures and then supporting them as customers, suppliers, advocates through their growing stages. 

In 2017 it is totally unacceptable that equal work of equal value is not paid for equally.  

New Zealand is a country that values treating everyone equally.  

It matters to us.  Let’s fix this.