Orr must tackle dire gender imbalance at Reserve Bank

The Reserve Bank needs to get "far more aggressive" to cast off a gender imbalance where 11 of the central bank's 13-strong executive team are men, and the proportion of women in senior roles ranks alongside some of the least diverse Crown agencies.

Governor Adrian Orr took over the reins at No 2 The Terrace in March having headed up the New Zealand Superannuation Fund for more than a decade. Of the fund manager's 127 staff, 37 percent were women, with 29 percent of the senior leadership team and a third of team heads female, as at June 30, 2017, according to its annual report. That level has been relatively stable for the past decade.

At the Reserve Bank, 36 percent of its 252 staff were women, although that dropped down to 20 percent of management roles - including managers and team leaders and senior positions of influence - and 26.2 percent of senior specialist roles. The Reserve Bank's website shows just two of 13 senior managers are women: chief information officer Klarissa Plimmer and human resources head Lindsay Jenkin.

"I'm disappointed that it is as imbalanced as it is. We will be working actively. We are just going to have to be far more aggressive at getting the gender balance balanced," Orr said in a recent interview with BusinessDesk.

The Reserve Bank admitted as much during a Parliamentary review of its 2017 annual report in February, with then acting governor Grant Spencer saying the bank hired a lot of women graduates, but struggled to retain women in senior and management roles, and while its annual report noted the need to encourage greater gender balance it offered scant detail on how to achieve that.

In contrast, the NZ Super Fund's annual report notes the introduction of a diversity and inclusiveness policy in the 2016 financial year and commissioned accounting firm EY to analyse its the gender pay gap, which found men were paid 37 percent more than women at the fund manager. The gap was bigger than NZ Super expected, and put down to the under-representation of women in senior roles and the organisation at large, and was an ongoing focus for the firm.

Within the New Zealand public sector the average for women in senior management positions, including chief executives, as well as tier two and three managers, is 47.9 percent, according to the latest data from the States Services Commision. Among the highest is the Government Communications Security Bureau at 57.1 percent, which has sought to shake off its fusty 'boy's club' reputation in an effort to introduce more diverse thinking. That policy has seen the intelligence agency slash its gender pay gap in half to 5 percent in two years.

Professional director Joan Withers said retention of women staff as they progress through the ranks is an issue across many organisations and the focus "has to be on understanding what is causing the impediment to get further up".

The Reserve Bank's recruitment track record may also have room for improvement.

In the year to June 30, 2017, the bank tried to hire six mid and senior management positions, attracting 101 external applicants, of which 19 were women. Of the four external hires, only one was female.

In the same vein, the hiring process that appointed Orr attracted 48 applicants, of which just six were women. Only two of those women made the final short list of 25. The central bank said applicants were not asked to provide their gender so the figures are based on best judgements made on the basis of candidate names.

Felicity Evans, general manager of human resources for ANZ New Zealand and the Pacific, said there's no "silver bullet or one single thing" to overcome the lack of diversity, but it starts with being with "being cognisant you have an issue and therefore what are you going to do about it".

ANZ Bank New Zealand has a policy that any short list for a position must be 50:50 gender split and the interview panel must also be equally split.

Evans said a considerable effort has gone into policies such as ensuring all positions are flexible, regardless of whether they are for men and women. The country's biggest bank has already moved to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks, ahead of new legislation that comes into effect in 2020. Employees also have two weeks of paid family leave. The bank recognises "this is part of your life and we want you back," she said.

According to Evans, 30.5 percent of women were leaders across ANZ as at April 30, up from 26.4 percent in 2012. Of ANZ's 8,394 New Zealand staff, 59 percent were women as at June 30, 2017, according to the group's corporate responsibility review.

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