New Zealand: Board Diversity and the NZRFU

Last Updated: 6 December 2017
Article by Denis Mowbray

On Saturday night (17th Sept) I watched as Mr. Impey, Chairman of the NZ Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was interviewed regarding why there were no women on the board of the NZRFU.

The catalyst for the interview was the significant negative publicity the NZRFU received following its handling of the recent Chief's incident. The implication being, that the event would have been handled differently if, on the board of the NZRFU, there had been women directors.

Although why this one incident would be the catalyst and not their stated aim from 2011 of achieving "world-class governance," I am at a loss to explain. The Annual Report from The CEO and Chair in 2011 said:

"We will also focus on whether further constitutional change is required to make sure that the New Zealand Rugby has world class governance and management structures in place"

While that is what they said in 2011, their commitment to achieving this, especially as it relates to gender diversity, has to be questioned. As Confucius said:

"If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone."

While the All Blacks gave a masterful display against the Springboks on Saturday night, showing courage, commitment, adaptability in a changing environment, a rigorous approach to self-assessment and a willingness to embrace change. The performance of the NZRFU board and its Appointments and Remuneration Committee in identifying and appointing women to the Board of the NZRFU could be likened to the Wallabies performance the week before; lacked effort, direction and any real commitment to the goal.

The concept of a quota of places for women was raised by the interviewer, asking Mr. Impey, if the Maori representation was a quota, Mr. Impey replied "yes" it was, then why couldn't the same rationale be applied to women on the board; that is, put in place a quota, he replied "where does it stop." Saying further, that it could lead to tokenism, and that he was interested in best practice.

In 2013 Mr. Eagle the then chair of the NZRFU said:

"Appointing an experienced woman from outside the Board to each of these Committees is a first step to gaining some valuable gender balance while also adding relevant skills to both these influential Board committees"

It had taken more than two years since the statement about "world-class class governance" to the tokenism of seconding women to its Rugby, Commercial and Strategic Relationships Board Sub-Committees.

It's been a further three years, and the NZRFU is stuck on the "first step." The question must be asked; if the ladies seconded for the committees are good enough to sit on those committees for three years, why isn't one of them now on the board?

What astounds and disturbs me, just as it should you, is, according to the report (News hub), the NZRFU received 11 applications from women, in this last selection period. However, they could not find one, with suitable skills and diversity of experience for the role or even worthy of an interview. Eleven applicants, and not one suitable for an interview.

One who we know applied, and yet never got an interview was the current Labour MP, Louisa Wall, here are some of Ms Wall's qualifications:
  • Member of the Silver Ferns, 1989-1992
  • World Champion Black Ferns, 1998
  • New Zealand Women's Rugby Player of the Year, 1997
  • Master of Philosophy, 2000-2002 (Social Policy)
  • Bachelor, 1995-1999 Social Policy and Social Work
  • Diploma in Sport and Recreation, 1990-1991
  • New Zealand University Blues, 1997-98
  • Policy Advisor and Policy Analyst - Children's Commission, Families Commission, Human Rights Commission, Auckland University of Technology, Counties Manukau DHB

If this level of experience will not get you an interview with the NZRFU Appointments and Remuneration Committee, what will?

So, who are the members of the Appointments and Remuneration Committee? They were not detailed in the last three years' (13-15) annual reports? A key governance committee is not mentioned in three years' annual reports, and we have no idea who the members are, that make decisions on director selection and remuneration, hardly "world-class governance."

That begs the question; did they actually know what they were looking for? When was the last performance review of the board carried out? Undertaking a board review facilitates the identification of the board's strengths, weaknesses, needs, etc. Understanding these elements allows the board to identify the mix of skills, diversity, etc., that is needed. Furthermore, it allows the board to reflect on, and ensure adherence to its own standards, such as that detailed in the Annual Report of 2011:

"We will also focus on whether further constitutional change is required to make sure that the New Zealand Rugby has world class governance and management structures in place"

'Word Class Governance,' with that in mind, I undertook a search of Annual Reports from 2011-2015. Searching for words and terms that would show something had occurred. Among the words searched were: Governance Review/s, Diversity, Board Performance, Women. I found these interesting quotes:

Only one mention of improving governance and no mentions of reviewing the governance performance.

Under Sustainable Structures; "there is already an increased focus on improving governance

Excellent, an increased focus, but no movement, e.g. board review, gender diversity on the board.

No mention of governance performance, governance review.

Although it was in 2013 that they decided to second women on to two board committees, as highlighted above.

Apparently, a milestone was reached in 2014 according to the report from the CEO and Chair.

"A milestone for governance of the game was reached with completion of the Constitutional Review and announcement of a new Board structure and processes"

Still no women on the board, nor any board performance review that was mentioned!

There was no mention of board performance, diversity, etc.

Now, admittedly, the board of the NZRFU may have had a board review undertaken and just failed to mention it in their annual reports, or perhaps decided that it was not worthy of mention. The completion of a review of the Board's performance is a capstone to the implementation of "world-class governance." What's more, transparency regarding the actions taken or to be taken, is critical, if the goal of "world-class governance" is to be reached.

As reported during the segment, the NZRFU has instituted a diversity group (subcommittee one presumes), who are to look into the issue (diversity) and report back in December. Frankly, there is nothing to look at; they have no diversity and up until the Chief's incident gained traction, they had shown no real desire to change.

Mr. Impey indicated that he believed there would be a woman on the board of NZRFU within 12 months, apparently we must "watch this space." The performance over the last five years after stating they wanted to achieve "world class governance," suggests we could grow old watching that space. As one of New Zealand's leading sports, whose teams have exceptionally high standards, isn't it time, the board team lifted their game? There are no excuses, just get on with it.

Watch the Interview

Disclaimer: I have no connection to, nor have I met or know Ms Wall.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Denis Mowbray
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