By Nidha Khan

We have the capacity to be world leaders. We were the first country in the world to give women their right to vote, Jacinda Ardern is currently the world’s youngest female leader, and good ol’ Aunty Helen ‘spearheaded significant development and institutional reforms’ as the administrator of the UN development programme. We may be a small nation, but we punch above our weight.

Now, we have a Minister for Women who says that she is ‘ambitious’ about achieving gender equality in the workplace. Earlier this month, Julie Anne Genter announced the government’s plan for equal gender representation on state sector boards and committees by 2021. That’s right, a 50-50 split, because currently women only make up 45.7% of these boards and committees. For a nation that prides itself on fairness and equality, we must do better. This simply isn’t good enough. We deserve a seat at the table, to shape decisions that will benefit all communities equally. We deserve to be heard, respected, and valued, and we’re not waiting any longer.

I interviewed Julie about her recent announcement below.

What kind of message are you hoping that the government pushing for equal representation on boards will send to young women?

We need more women’s voices in decision making. I want young women to be assured there is a place at the table for them, especially Māori and Pasifika young women.

Were you surprised by the reaction you received when you made your announcement? Or was it what you expected?

The announcement went well, I just wish that more men had attended, we did invite them!

You’ve responded to some of the criticism about the 50/50 target.

For example, you stated that “for all those who say targets aren’t necessary because we should appoint solely on merit – there are plenty of capable women out there, we just need to actively seek them out. To assume appointments are currently only merit-based is essentially to assume women and minorities are not capable, because white men currently dominate the largest companies in NZ”.

Despite this, there are people that still continue to believe that men are being discriminated against and that it’s not fair. In your opinion, why do you think there is still such resistance to the targets?

I think there is a mistaken assumption that things are currently fair for everyone – and so when we talk about taking deliberate steps to improve diversity, some people jump to the conclusion this means discrimination against those who are over-represented. We just need to recognise that it is not currently a level playing field, and we have to do more work if we want a fair society. I want everyone to have the same opportunities. It’s nothing to be threatened by, improved diversity is better for all of us.

Women make up only 19% of the people on boards in the private sector and you’ve issued a challenge to the private sector to do something about this. You’ve discussed the possibility of quotas if they don’t, but also mentioned that a range of other tools are also available. So, what other options could potentially be on the table?

Different governments around the world are taking action to ensure more fairness on boards. I’m hoping to start a conversation as I share the concerns of many New Zealanders that only 20 percent of companies here have female representation on their boards.

Internationally, alternative approaches to increase women’s representation on private sector boards have included the use of voluntary targets, corporate governance codes (diversity rulings and charters), enhanced recruitment policies and practices, along with flexible work policies and measures to increase the pipeline of women in senior management roles.

Also, what are your thoughts on why the NZ government has lagged behind in terms of using gender analysis in policy decisions?

Gender analysis means to look at a government’s policies and work out how they will affect women. The previous government didn’t prioritise this work, but it is something I am looking into.

In the recent Grant Thornton report, they note there is a world-wide consensus that “governments and businesses need to work collaboratively to address gender inequality in business leadership”.  How is the current government planning to work on this?

Government can lead by example, that’s why we have prioritised closing the gender pay gap in the public sector. The new pay equity law we introducing soon is underpinned by the Joint Working Group, made up of government, business, and unions. This government is into collaboration to ensure the best possible outcomes for everyone.

NIDHA KHAN is a public health graduate and policy student who spends her time writing about human rights, youth activism, and social issues. She’s also a lover of puns, a terrible cook, and is on a mission to hug every pug in sight. You can keep up with her antics on Instagram at @nidha01 and check out more of her work below:

Trump’s Zero-Tolerance Policy: The Role Young New Zealanders Play

The Importance of Respect in Sexual Experiences

Directing Change: An Interview with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

An Interview with Anna Neistat: Part 1