The glass ceiling seems to be alive and operating well in New Zealand—or so a reporter's interpretation of a recently published report by Grant Thornton would have us believe.
Whereas New Zealand was the first country in the world to embrace universal adult suffrage, it now ranks 15th in terms of the proportion of senior executive positions held by women (down from fourth a decade ago). The reporter seems to have used this statistic to make the glass ceiling claim. The Grant Thornton spokesman has made similar claims. However, when one reads the Grant Thornton report more carefully, the picture is actually somewhat different. The global average has also stalled. The proportion of women in senior executive positions jumped from 19% to 24% in the three years from 2004 to 2007 but has remained largely static since. (The New Zealand proportion is 31%.)
Rather than make speculative claims, of a glass ceiling, the discussion needs to centre on why the proportion has stalled. It could be that a quarter to a third is representative of the number of effective female leaders available to contribute. Or, it could be that more are willing, but they lack the expertise to be truly effective when measured against male counterparts. Or, it could be due to a myriad of other contributing factors. Whatever the reason, business and society would be well served by finding out. Notwithstanding this, simplistic approaches (like counting things) are unhelpful. They cannot produce anything more than correlations, statements of what 'is' and emotive claims. The problem is complex, so a different research approach is required to reveal the underlying mechanisms. However, such research is typically slow and demanding, as I've discovered in my own research work. In the meantime, reporters like Mr Foreman would be well served by taking a little more care in their reporting.
* For the record, I am a strong advocate of appointing the best and most capable person to any role, regardless of their gender or any other diversity variable.
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