An Appointment That Sparks Celebration

By Siobhan McKenna, Global Women CEO

Why should it matter that Spark’s incoming CEO is a woman? One day, hopefully, it won’t. Today, it matters a great deal.

There’s no doubt that Spark chose Jolie Hodson for her talent, business acumen and sound decision making. She is described as ”an accomplished leader with a strong record of delivering results and managing complex business units.” She has broad experience and is highly respected by those in the corporate world. Why the fuss?

There are two key reasons:

Firstly, Jolie will be Spark’s CEO when its Chair is also a woman: Justine Smyth. This makes Spark the first New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX)-listed company to be led by two women.

This is a major milestone for gender equality in New Zealand and deserves congratulations. It also speaks to our progress, however slow, as a country in accepting the equal abilities of men and women, while respecting the value of our differences. The current Spark executive team includes five men and three women; its board includes four women and four men.

Having a woman boss—and making news with New Zealand-firsts—is almost business-as-usual at Spark. Theresa Gattung took the top job at Spark, then Telecom, in 1999. In doing so, she became the first woman to run a large New Zealand public company.

Even so, Spark has invested in developing its pipeline of female talent, which leads to the second key reason this appointment is noteworthy: talent development and succession planning.

Jolie’s appointment to CEO was not out-of-the-blue. She was identified as a potential leadership candidate and has had exposure across most major parts of Spark's business, giving her ample time to develop relationships within the operational team and with board members. She was given opportunities and she proved herself more than capable.

Last year’s gender balance survey of more than 100,000 employees looked at representation of women and men at every level of the management hierarchy, from entry level to board member.

What it found wasn’t surprising: women start to disappear from the leadership pipeline at middle-management level. Our inclusion research also found that people earning between $70,000 and $100,000—a bracket where women are overrepresented—are among the two groups most likely to feel excluded at work (millennial males being the other group).

In recent times, among NZX 50-listed companies there has been only one female CEO: Kate McKenzie of Chorus..

According to the latest NZX Diversity Report, 22.5% of board directors are women while 22.7% of executive officers are women. That’s barely one in five. As of January 2019, 27 NZX-listed companies have no female directors.

Women have the talent and the requisite capability. We need to recognise that truth while also recognising that women are not represented in leadership in balanced numbers, despite entering the workforce in equal numbers and graduating from universities in greater numbers.

That is why it is so important we draw attention to Spark’s story and take the learnings from it, because while the car might be in gear, as a nation, we’re still moving slowly. So it’s vital support is in place to enable businesses to reap the benefits of gender-balanced, diverse and inclusive leadership.

Diversity has shown again and again to lead to innovation, increased staff engagement and better business results. Spark, in a rapidly changing industry, operating under an agile model, and constantly pushing boundaries in a tight consumer market, is aware of these issues and benefits from broad thinking to drive better business outcomes.

Simon Moutter has long been a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in his role as CEO. Spark is a Global Women partner and both Simon and Justine are members of the Champions for Change group, which includes CEOs and Chairs of leading companies that have committed to encouraging a diverse workforce. These leaders speak out on the benefits of diversity, measure gender balance within their organisations, and commit to providing the tangible support of a strong talent pipeline within their organisations.

Simply put, the progress of Jolie to CEO is an endorsement for developing and supporting talented women into leadership positions and Spark’s recognition of the benefits of diversity and inclusion.

Kate McKenzie, Justine Smyth and Jolie Hodson are also Global Women members, which means they are committed to progressing diversity and inclusion and supporting a pipeline of female talent.

We are celebrating today the New Zealand-first of a NZX-listed company that is helmed by two women, and we are celebrating an excellent example of talent development and succession planning.

This weekend, Spark employees can see an appropriately digital congratulations – two big thumbs-up from us to congratulate Spark.

While we hope that in the future, having two women at the top will not be reason for a digital billboard, for now, it’s a milestone worth celebrating.

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