When Kate McKenzie started as Chorus chief executive one year ago, she also became the sole woman at the head of an NZX 50 company. We sat down with the only female running a listed company in New Zealand to get her unique insights into why there aren’t more women running kiwi businesses and to ask what advice she would give her younger self.
Global Women (GW): You’re the only female CEO among New Zealand’s top 50 companies. From your unique vantage point, why aren’t there more women leading our businesses?
Kate McKenzie (KM): People often ask me why there aren’t more female CEOs in New Zealand. I’ve only been one for a year myself, so I struggle to answer it. You know, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, it’s generally seen as quite a liberal environment. There definitely should be more female CEOs and it’s something we should keep on the agenda.
One of the many reasons that there aren’t many women CEOs is that fewer women apply for these roles. In this regard, the work has to start much sooner. Women need to see role models and see a path for themselves to a CEO role. More and more women need to realise that you can do it as well as anybody else can. That would make a big difference.
GW: When you think back, did you always know you would be running a company one day? What would you advise your younger self today?
KM: When I think back to when I was younger, if you’d said to me that I’d end up doing these sorts of roles I would have laughed and said ‘don’t be ridiculous!’ But at various points in my career I got positive reinforcement and opportunities, and I began to see myself as being capable of doing a role like this – and actually enjoying it!
I would advise my younger self to take more risks and to take them sooner. To never be afraid of taking on a new challenge. Of course you need to have the core skills so you can be successful, but push yourself and have the confidence that you can take on challenges and be successful.
GW: What’s the commercial incentive to focus on diversity and inclusion?
KM: Diversity of thinking is really important to business success. Boards and management teams making these decisions need to keep that at the forefront of their minds. When you keep more of an open mind about the features and skillsets of individuals that make successful CEOs, it isn’t necessarily the person who’s been in the company 40 years, or the person who’s had the standard career. It can be all kinds of different things that people bring to a CEO role that make them successful.
We’re at a point in history where technology and business model disruption is happening at a faster and faster pace, so more than ever having curious people with an open mind and a different way of thinking about problem solving is something that boards and senior leaders are thinking about more. Often women will have an advantage when it comes to those characteristics.
GW: What’s the one thing leaders should focus on in 2018 to help us achieve greater gender balance in senior leadership roles?
KM: I think keeping the conversation going and having a focus on why there aren’t more female CEOs is the most important way we will get there. Having a dialogue about it is a really healthy contributor to people thinking ‘Maybe I should think more seriously about female candidates for CEO roles that are coming up.’