Challenges faced by women directors today: two directors share their insights

Speaking to a room full of governance leaders, award-winning director Cassandra Crowley and director on multiple boards and former MP Steve Maharey covered a range of topic during a panel discussion with MC Ziena Jalil at the Women in Governance Awards 2022.

During the discussion, the directors spoke about women in governance, with a particular focus on inclusion, finding your allies, backing yourself and creating a pathway for other female governors.

In this transcript (below) Crowley and Maharey talk about the challenges faced by women directors today.

Ziena Jalil: What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced and how have you overcome that?

Cassandra Crowley:

“I think it's really different for every person. I've been really phenomenally lucky to have great champions, both male and female.

“As a woman, there's always more interests in the plans of your uterus, your marital status, your sexual orientation, and your domestic arrangements for how things get done, to enable the washing to happen, and the lawns to be mowed.

“And that same level of question about whether men have the capacity in their lives doesn't happen.

“You mentioned that I am relatively young to have received the roles that I've had, which again, is something we don't comment on for males.

“Rather it's a whole - you've done really well, how did you do that. They say, well, gosh, that guy must be good.

“And I think those are the sorts of struggles historically, I think when there were fewer women in a room, some of us weren't that good at putting down the ladder, opening the door, an elbowing room for other women because we were so scared of that space being limited, just with the people who were already there.

“So, I think there are three things that I hear a lot from women about the challenges that we have in getting into that governance environment.

“I think there's a broader issue, which is around the remuneration of directorships and what that means for people who aren't at a stage in their career or have their own businesses and whether they can afford to do that, particularly for women who may have already taken time out of the workforce to have children.

“So that's another factor that I think needs thinking about quite systematically.”

Steve Maharey:

“Well, first of all, thanks for having me here because it's a bit special being a male up here.

“And I realized that probably you're looking at me at that terrible picture saying well, there's the problem that there's that old bloke in the picture. And I imagine that that does run through people's minds.

“Rob Campbell said that recently, if there's a is a problem, it's probably him looking at himself in the mirror - how come we are still doing these kinds of jobs?

“I think it probably is going to be a responsibility of people like me to start moving on and getting out of the way and letting people come on through.

“Although I'd say in defense of older folks sometimes, you'd still have something to offer and that's why you get asked to do these kinds of things.

“So, it's not a case of people should move on necessarily. But be aware, because there are a couple of things that I think to say about why we are in the situation we're in now.

“We've got a good situation in the public sector. We're not so good in, in the private sector.

“What do we do about these things?

“In the public sector I think the big challenge is how to diversify the range of people who are coming into boards. That's the next big challenge. On all the boards I'm on, it's either a majority of women or half and half now, so that's great, but the diversity is not as good as it should be.

“Why is it like that?

“I think one of the key things is that it's just that the world is organized around what men do and still is. So, it makes it harder for people to come through because of the kinds of things that Cassandra is just saying.

“I think one of the most powerful things in this room is we're building a network now in the same way that men have always had.

“So that when you are looking for something you would like to do, you can talk to someone and say - I'm part of this network, can you help put me in touch with so and so?

“That's how it works for men on the whole. People talk to each other about what they would like to do and whether it's your turn to go onto this board or not.

“What we're seeing now is a dramatic shift, in that there is a network now that will empower women to do these kinds of things. So, I think there's a massive change coming.

“The big challenge will be for the private sector to do something that Rob [Campbell] is talking about, and that is for men in the private sector to realize they have to actively and purposely make sure they are recruiting women into boards.

“That's what's happened with subsequent governments. Particularly I think really since Jenny Shipley, particularly since Helen Clark, it's been a purposeful thing to say - there must be women on these things, go find them and put them on there.

“That is, I think, what's not happening in the private sector and that's the big change that needs to happen, to make this happen now.”

Read more of the discussion in the following parts