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Female board participation rises in S&P 500 Index

Antoinette Spicer
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Women have gained 16 seats on the boards of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.  Wallpaper flare

Women have gained 16 seats on the boards of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index for a 27 percent share of directorships last month, according to Bloomberg data.

The S&P 500 Index measures the stock performance of 500 large companies listed on stock exchanges in the United States.

Companies with the highest percentage of female board members include: Omnicom Group Inc and American Water Works Co with 55 per cent female board members, and Best Buy Co and ViacomCBS Inc with 54 per cent.

While the percentage of US female board members has increased, New Zealand still lags behind with diversity and gender representation in board roles.

In 2018, the New Zealand Census of Women on Boards reported that only 24.1 per cent of New Zealand board members were female, and less than one in four board members of New Zealand’s top 100 companies by market capitalisation were women.

New Zealand remains significantly behind best practice European jurisdictions, which have between 30 and 40 per cent female boardroom representation, as well as national initiatives to speed up women’s access to board seats.

There has been a significant increase in the proportion of new female directors appointed since 2018, with 63 new appointments for every 100 male appointed to the director, according to S&P/NZX50.

However, the proportion of female directors on the boards of the S&P/NZX50 has only increased by two per cent in the past financial year.

20 companies in New Zealand’s top 100 have no women on their boards. These include Millennium & Copthorne, Turners Automotive, Orion Health, and retailer Smiths City.

New Zealand’s Top 100 companies have 617 directors. 149 of them are female – 24.1%. In 2017 that figure was 22.1%, while in 2016 it was 20.1% - an increase of about two percentage points every year.

AUT researchers Catriona MacLennan, Professor Judy McGregor and Shamubeel Eaqub, predict it will take at least another decade for the gender gap in governance of the top 100 listed companies to close up.

New Zealand’s boards and management of the top companies not only remain overwhelmingly male but overwhelmingly Pākehā.

Māori – both male and female – are almost entirely absent from the Top 100 NZX company boards, as are Pasifika. This is despite the fact that Māori makes up 14.9 per cent of the population and Pasifika 7.4 per cent.