New Zealand's Rich List and the Mysterious Case of the Invisible Women

There are no individual females listed among the country's top 50 earners. Why not?

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07 March 2018, 10:21pm

New Zealand’s “Rich List”, produced annually by the National Business Review, follows the same gender-skewed narrative year after year. Filled to the brim with knighted CEOs, the country’s top 50 incomes, while inclusive of family trusts, boasts no individual female earners. To give you an idea of the kind of wealth we’re talking about, Rod Duke, number 13 on 2017’s list and worth $750 million, recently kicked up a fuss about not being able to fly his helicopter as often as he wanted to. These people don’t run out of milk.

And while the list does show that we have a lot of filthy rich New Zealanders in our midst, it also points to a deeper, systemic issue that wave after wave of feminism has been unable to cure. That men’s pockets continue to be deeper than women’s. Women make up half of our population, yet major wealth is represented by the opposite gender. The richest individually listed male on the list is Graeme Hart, worth $7.5 billion. The wealthiest, individually listed female is social marketing guru Victoria Ransom, number 52 on the list and worth $300 million. While nearly 125 years ago, New Zealand paved the way with the right to vote, our seemingly stagnant progression now has us placed at ninth for gender equality in the OECD.

New Zealand’s wealth story is a familiar one worldwide. According to Wealth X’s Billionaire Census, the amount of billionaires in the world in 2015 was just 11.9 percent female. In the latest census, released in 2017, just 11.3 percent of the 2,397 global billionaires were women. I wanted to speak to Fran Walsh, Sir Peter Jackson’s partner, about this particular issue. Jackson is worth $630 million and a huge part of his success has been Walsh's contribution to his films as producer, screenwriter and composer. Her name is right alongside his on the Oscars and yet she is invisible on the rich list and we hear little of her publicly. I wanted to give her the chance to speak of her achievements and ask why her name is not listed alongside her much more famous business and life partner, so contacted her through WingNut films. Unfortunately, Walsh was deeply immersed in post-production for science fiction film Mortal Engines and "unavailable for comment".

So I got in touch with Sandy Burgham, founder of Play Contemporary Leadership Colab to see if she could tell me why we don't hear of more wealthy women. Burgham says that on the surface, companies seem to be ticking a lot of boxes. Unfortunately though, striving for equality and getting women into high ranking, high paying positions runs no deeper than a pledge on a piece of paper. “They are talking about diversity, they are doing women in leadership programmes. However, these are just superficial band-aids on a systemic issue: the structure of the system which is basically patriarchal and starts presenting itself as a social norm,” she says. According to New Zealand’s Ministry for Women, 80 percent of the gender pay gap is driven by unexplained factors such as unconscious bias.

"At age four, a girl will think she can do anything, just like a boy can. By age six, girls are beginning to think in terms of what they can’t do."

Social anthropologist Jane Horan, a collaborator at Play, says systemic issues start from when women are as young as six. “The research is that at age four, a girl will think she can do anything, just like a boy can. By age six, girls are beginning to think in terms of what they can’t do. So we’ve got a society that’s set up where girls are being channeled in ways that boys aren’t,” she says. The media also plays a large part in the maintenance of gender roles, says Burgham. She points to cases such as Charles Wooley’s 60 Minutes interview with Jacinda Ardern. “Can you imagine if Simon Bridges was interviewed — who is no bush pig — would Woolley have been as interested in his looks or god forbid when he had sex?” she asks. “What this points to is, again, the ridiculous assumption that women cannot work and be a parent at the same time.”

Duncan Bridgeman, editor of the National Business Review, says that while his publication is conscious about interviewing more women in business, they have to deal with the cards they’re given. “We probably interview more women in business than any other publication, but when it comes to doing a story on Fletcher Building for example, the people we have to talk to are the chairman Sir Ralph Norris and the chief executive, who is also a male.”

While society still has a long way to go until women are sharing the stage with the wealthiest men, or even being paid equally, more reassuring findings state that almost half of all business leaders in New Zealand are now female. Bridgeman says the change is notable. “We’re seeing a lot more women come into governance roles, on boards of directors and taking leadership positions in terms of executive roles,” he says.

Unfortunately, though, Bridgeman says there’s a lot of work to be done within New Zealand’s top-listed companies. While women are increasingly in leadership positions, the types of high-earning jobs that “Rich List” candidates hold, such as top positions at NZX-listed companies—like our friend Rod Duke and his direction of Briscoes—are severely gender-skewed; in late 2017, women held just 19 percent of director positions within companies from the NZX Main Board. This indicates that many of New Zealand’s most commercially successful businesses are severely under-representing women. While we may not all need helicopters to get to work, a fair shot at gender equality—AKA, slashing the 9.4 percent gender pay gap—might give the “Rich List” a dash more female.

To celebrate International Women's Day, VICELAND NZ is extending the moment to last the entire week. From March 5-12 we're celebrating all our best female hosted content—including STATES OF UNDRESS, WOMEN, RISE, SLUTEVER and more—available on Sky Channel 13 and SKY On Demand.

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