13 May 2016

CEO gender imbalance 'gobsmacking'

7:22 pm on 13 May 2016

There are now no women listed as CEOs in any of New Zealand's top 50 businesses, while the disparity between chief executives and workers' pay continues to grow.

Data collated by New Zealand Herald showed the CEOs from New Zealand's largest listed companies had an average pay increase of 12 percent in 2015 compared with 3.2 percent for employees. All of the CEOs were men.

A man and two women in business dress stand on a balcony in an office.

Photo: 123RF

Theresa Gattung was the first woman to run a large New Zealand public company, Telecom, in 1999 and now runs My Food Bag.

 Theresa Gattung

Theresa Gattung Photo: SUPPLIED

She said she was "gobsmacked" that in 2016 there were no female CEOs in the top 50 companies.

"I was part of a wonderful era with a female prime minister, a female leader of the opposition, a female mayor of Auckland, a female chief justice - and it really felt like a bit of a new dawn," she said of her time when she was running Telecom.

"I looked at that list this morning and I knew there would be no women on it - I know who all the CEOs are - but if you'd asked me back in the 2000s 'would it be like this at this point', I would have been gobsmacked, and I guess I still am gobsmacked.

"Models of leadership tend to be male, it's harder to get there [for women], it's harder to stay there, and the penalties for failure or only perceived failure are higher for women.

"There's always - in both business and politics - a much narrower range of attributions and styles are acceptable for women. If you're too tough you're a bitch, if you're not tough enough you're too soft, and yet we have to be authentic otherwise what we say doesn't ring true."

Sexism was still rife in workplaces in New Zealand and she had faced plenty of it, she said.

"I believe that every woman who says they haven't been [exposed to sexism] is either lying, or doesn't want to tell the truth because it doesn't fit the situation they're in, or they're unconscious [of the fact]."

However, she thought New Zealand was still a good place for women compared to many other countries.

"There's still a lot of opportunities you can't get in a lot of other countries around the world."

CEOs earn '40 times average person'

The large disparity between the pay rises of company bosses and their workers highlights the wealth imbalance in society, says the Council of Trade Unions (CTU).

Theo Spierings, Fonterra CEO

Theo Spierings, Fonterra CEO Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The average CEO increase was $180,000 while the biggest total salary was Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings. He earned $4.49 million.

The average pay increase for employees was $988, with the average salary $57,000.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said CEOs' increases were way out of step with the realities of most working people and were immoral.

"We've had large companies for a long time. They haven't always had this kind of disproportionate pay being given to the top while thousands and thousands of people are under the living wage in this country."

He said the country must find a way to restore balance such as better laws to support collective and transparent pay bargaining.

Mr Wagstaff dismissed the idea that chief executives deserve big increases because they generate wealth that boosts the company and creates jobs.

"These people are earning something like 40 times your average person. They're not doing 40 times the work or adding 40 times the value.

"Everyone does a valuable job. All jobs, if they're not done, can bring the organisation to a halt."

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said the figures may not look good on the surface but they can be misleading.

They relate to only a very small number of people and do not reflect the pay of most top level managers, he said.

The figures may also include income from stocks or shares

Mr Campbell said chief executives live in a volatile environment and can lose their job very quickly if the company performs poorly.

And New Zealand companies are competing with international ones to lure CEOs, which can bump up their salaries.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs