Theresa Gattung: An equal society needs women in business


Improving women’s economic empowerment is crucial to achieving gender equality, a goal that in 2021 is yet to be realised. When talking about “women’s economic empowerment”, I mean the capacity for women to make and act on decisions that involve control over financial resources.

• Theresa Gattung donates $2.5m to launch centre for women entrepreneurs

I am a firm believer that through business we can create a fairer world. I have seen it with my own eyes and participate in it through my involvement in SheEO.

SheEO is all about women helping women succeed in their businesses by providing interest-free loans to early stage businesses (Ventures).

To quote Candice Pardy, Founder of Jobloads, “SheEO has been life changing for me”.

To promote meaningful change we must equip women with entrepreneurial and business skills that enable them to succeed in business, and in life. We need more women entrepreneurs who hold a dual focus of making money while creating a better world.

Gender bias shapes our structures and systems.

Women comprise half of the global population, but women-led businesses receive only a few per cent of investment capital.

Over the course of my career, and particularly in the past decade, it has become easier to be successful as a businesswoman. This has been helped by the rise of visible female leadership, particularly in government and politics, where the position of Prime Minister, leader of the opposition, our Chief Justice and Governor General, are all currently held by women.

These are great role models. It is hard to be what you can’t see. Despite these advances though, there are still significant challenges and far too few women CEOs, and unequal representation of women on boards in New Zealand.

In the progressive, fast-paced world of entrepreneurship you may be under the assumption that all things are equal between men and women. Sadly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether it is access to capital or getting the right type of support and expertise needed to scale a business all the studies show it is harder for women founders. Why is this?

Firstly, leadership is still largely seen as a white male thing, and this creates problems for women. One issue is that gender norms restrict the range of behaviours that are acceptable for women to exhibit in business/leadership environments.

Women leaders who act assertively, are more disliked than men. This is known as the likeability bias, where society expects men to be assertive, and women to be kind and communal.

For instance, we want strong leaders, but powerful women are often seen as too aggressive and difficult. Conversely women who are perceived as emotional are written off as leaders. Also compared to their male counterparts, women are more often targets of abuse for not conforming to these gender norms.

Another impediment to women’s success is domesticity. While marriage and children are joyful experiences, the unequal division of household labour can seriously disadvantage women and adversely impact on their careers.

It is not just the uneven distribution of physical labour at home, but the psychic load. Women perform vastly more cognitive tasks than men. This is because the logistics of running a household tends to be gendered. Jobs like who organises childcare, or planning the meals, scheduling activities is largely hidden work, so not acknowledged.

Women entrepreneurs continually feel that they must prove themselves. Women tend to start businesses with less capital than men and are less likely to take on debt to expand. Whether this is a preference for lower risk or a reaction to constraints is hard to assess.

How else can we economically empower women? Pay transparency would be a good start. A recent survey from Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand revealed that male accountants on average are paid $60,000 more than their female counterparts.

The disparity was more acute the more senior the role, with New Zealand’s average male chief financial officer being paid $70,000 more than the average female CFO. The size of this pay gap is appalling. Pay transparency would make this situation hard to justify.

Some women do not naturally gravitate to business, yet not being business or financially savvy can limit their life choices and opportunities. For many women, nothing in their background prepares them to understand how to set up and grow a business. This needs to change.

We must educate and encourage women to engage with entrepreneurship and upskill them to succeed financially. Only then, will we begin to create a fairer economic system for women – a vital step in achieving gender equality. And only then will we enable the country to reap the returns of New Zealand’s outstanding female business talent.

• Theresa Gattung is the co-founder of My Food Bag and former chief executive of Telecom

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