Joanna Norris, Editor of The Press and Leanne Lazarus, General Manager Operations, Westpac Bank.
Can I acknowledge Fairfax Media for the initiative in recognising Women of Influence in this way and Westpac Bank for your support for these Awards.
The Women of Influence Awards celebrate the important contribution influential women make to business, community and society right across New Zealand – they are leaders whatever their sphere of influence.
I remember an educationalist making the point that using gender neutral terms was important for children for that reason. How could girls imagine themselves as police officers or firefighters, if they only hear about policemen and firemen?
It’s equally hard to imagine yourself in a leadership role, when women are not usually called upon to lead.
The countries that make up the United Nations are waking up to the fact that there is something wrong with their selection criteria, when a woman has never been appointed as the Secretary-General.
My view is that leadership is not a position – it is a characteristic based on certain qualities. I often speak of attending a forum where young people were asked to describe leadership and the usual words were offered: strong, decisive, committed, authoritative and responsible. I would describe this as the heroic model of leadership – someone who comes in and takes charge – orders are issued and obeyed.
In the emergency response period following a disaster, people often look for this form of leadership – command and control can be comforting; someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But there is another way to define leadership and this definition ties in with my experience once the crisis is over and we begin the process of recovery. The kind of leader that emerges in this environment is one that is respectful, engaging, empathetic, inclusive and intuitive.
Why do we think of women when we hear those words and yet we don’t necessarily think of women when we look for a leader?
Have we had the image of the heroic leader drummed into us to the extent that we don’t see that these are the quintessential qualities of leadership?
Many people recall the time in New Zealand when we had a woman Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Attorney General, Chief Justice, and a woman was the CEO of one of the top listed companies on the New Zealand Stock Exchange.
But at the same time, women made up only 7 % of directors on the Top 100 companies on the NZX with many having no women on their boards at all.
I do not make a case for tokenism, which is why I don’t support quotas – I make a case for diversity, because it’s good for decision-making especially where complexity is concerned.
To tackle complex problems we require many points of view, many perspectives. This is so we obtain diversity of thought and consider a range of ideas before agreeing to a solution. The more diverse the range of skills, knowledge and experience that are brought to bear on a complex issue, the greater the potential to make good decisions.
The opposite of this approach leads to ‘group think’ and we all know where the ‘Yes Minister’ mentality takes us.
So the greater the diversity in leadership, be it in business, on a board, in a community organisation or not-for-profit or around the council or cabinet table, the better the chance a full range of solutions will be examined and a good decision will be reached.
There are few more complex environments than a post-disaster recovery.
And the Women of Influence Awards focusing this year on ‘turning ideas into action, investing in yourself’ will encourage us to consider diverse leaders who operate in many different spheres, and also encourage us to think of what it takes to be a leader – investing in ourselves means work and life in balance for a start.
In one of her interviews a couple of weeks ago, Helen Clark said:
"I’ve never asked anyone to elect me, going right back through a long political career, because I’m a woman. Obviously, I’m a woman and I love to see women get to the top. But my appeal is: vote for me because I’m the best person for the job”.[i]
Whether she makes it or not, she has played her part in paving the way for more women leaders in New Zealand by helping to re-define leadership – she has always been someone who has turned ideas into action, and she has invested in herself and others.
So to have every one of the 250 women who has won this Award over the past four years. And so too will this year’s winners.
On that note I can say that the Christchurch element of the 2016 Women of Influence Awards is launched.