Organisations striving to improve their gender pay and power gaps are battling to achieve their goals despite all the best intentions

In 2018, Fonterra was in celebration mode. The global dairy co-operative had just signed up as one of six founding members of the YWCA’s gender tick accreditation programme, which demonstrates a commitment to gender equity in the workplace.

The board also approved an aspirational target to increase the number of women in senior leadership to 50 percent by 2022.

“Selection decisions will continue to be made on merit, but setting targets are important to help drive change,” the company said at the time. “We are committed to ongoing measurement to track progress.”

But four years down the track, on deadline for its 50:50 split, Fonterra is still far from its goal. 

On the board of directors, 36 percent, or four out of 11 members, are women. On the senior management team, only 25 percent are women, with six men and two women.

Kate Daly, Fonterra’s managing director of people and culture, told Newsroom in a statement the company might fall short of its goal by the deadline.

“We recognise that some of our targets for 2022 are ambitious and we may not deliver on them, but they are still important because they give us focus and they encourage innovative thinking,” she says.

Newsroom asked what challenges the company had come up against when trying to achieve its gender diversity goals, and what lessons the organisation’s leaders had drawn from their attempts to get more women in leadership roles.

Daly didn’t directly answer these questions, instead saying the company can do better to lift the number of women in senior leadership and it is working on a plan that gets more women into the co-op, according to Daly.

“We have a real focus on gender-balanced recruitment, flexibility, leadership development and addressing unconscious bias to help accelerate progress,” she says. “We hope to retain women with our parental leave changes and flexible working policy.”

In Fonterra’s defence, its 50:50 target exceeds what’s often seen as a gold standard for gender and ethnic diversity: Champions for Change. 

This group of business leaders has a shared goal of a 40:40:20 split across all levels of its organisations – 40 percent women, 40 percent men, and the remaining 20 percent made up of men, women, and gender diverse people.

Even that is harder than it sounds.

Industrial real estate player Goodman Property Trust is another Champion for Change. It has a $4.3 billion property portfolio and more than 200 customers in New Zealand.

Goodman Property Trust chief executive John Dakin says the company’s gender diversity goal remains achievable. Photo: Supplied

In 2018, Goodman set itself a target of having 40 percent women on its board and in its executive team, and 35 percent in its management pool by 2023.

Its plan included making sure recruitment shortlists included an equal number of male and female candidates, improving flexible work and maternity leave policies, and mentoring and succession planning for female leaders and future leaders.

Four years on, the company is close to its target in terms of its senior leaders, where 37.5 percent are female – three out of eight.

But the gender mix on the board of directors has stubbornly sat at two women and five men, or 29 percent.

In order to tip over the 40 percent mark, there needs to be one more woman on the board.

“The goal remains intact, and remains achievable at this stage.”
– Goodman Property chief executive John Dakin

According to the company’s annual report, board directors are appointed for three-year terms, after which they’re eligible for reappointment, and they have an average tenure of 10 years.

John Dakin says the board is going through a “refresh” at this time. He says the company is very conscious of its target, while still making the right decisions for the business.

“At this stage, I’m confident we’ll make some progress towards those targets and we’ll report on those in 2023. The goal remains intact, and remains achievable at this stage.” 

He says there’s no question real estate is a male-dominated industry, and this needs to change. 

“If [the sector] wants to be a contemporary modern industry, it’s got to change its diversity. I’m a firm believer that the more diverse views there are around the table, the better decisions you’ll make.”

Progress over perfection

It can be a struggle to shift the dial in an industry with relatively few women who have top-level experience and a smaller workforce in general, according to Dakin.

The company is doing what it can to support female staff to succeed in the workplace, including addressing unconscious bias, providing flexible work arrangements, and upping its parental leave to 16 weeks.

At the end of the day, Goodman is doing better than businesses that don’t have targets at all. 

“People will have their views as to whether they are ambitious enough or not, but they are ambitious targets for us,” Dakin says.

“They’ve probably seen the data and thought, ‘Holy moly, that’s a PR disaster’ and then done nothing about it.”
– Jarrod Haar, AUT professor

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to work our way through these things and make sure the talent is there. Judge us when we get to 2023, not now.”

Jarrod Haar, professor of human resource management at AUT, thinks companies should be aiming higher and hitting their targets too. Still, he’s patting companies on the back for revealing their unsavoury statistics relating to pay disparities and power gaps.

“We must celebrate those who are putting their hands up because they might at least start to improve those numbers.”

He thinks others would have crunched their own diversity numbers and been scared off from letting the numbers see the light of day.

“They’ve probably seen the data and thought, ‘Holy moly, that’s a PR disaster’ and then done nothing about it,” he says. 

AUT professor Jarrod Haar says companies who reveal their gender pay and power gaps should be encouraged. Photo: Supplied 

“I think at some stage we do need to put a bit of a blowtorch on the back of the board and the senior managers.” 

Global Women chair Theresa Gattung says progress is continuing to be made, particularly with the increase in companies auditing and reporting on their gender pay gaps, the broadening of parental leave policies, and providing more flexible working options.

“The next big challenge, beyond gender, is of course ethnicity and seeing greater diversity in leadership right across the board,” she says. “This is very much a key area of focus for Global Women and the Champions.”

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