Hey girls, are we there yet? The long wait for equality for women

by Virginia Larson / 10 September, 2018

Are we there yet? Sadly, the answer seems to be no. Photo / Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - girls

As the 125th anniversary of women's suffrage in New Zealand looms large, the question has to be asked: Are we there yet? One woman who spent time at the top has a disappointing answer.

In late August, Helen Clark spoke at an Epsom Girls Grammar School fundraiser. The event was called A Conversation with Helen Clark, with broadcaster-journalist Alison Mau asking the questions. I heard about it because I’m on the EGGS old girls’ email list, and I thought our first elected female prime minister might have something interesting to say ahead of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

As it happened, Mau opened the conversation with a reference to Auckland Museum’s suffrage exhibition, Are We There Yet?


“So, how far have we come, Helen?” she asked. “Are we there yet?”

“We are not.” Clark owns the declarative statement and she had a receptive audience at the school’s packed 250-seat auditorium. She also had a bunch of statistics at her fingertips – the least dispiriting being the current 46 women members of Parliament (38.7%), and a gender pay gap that narrowed slightly last year to 9.4%. But female representation in other fields of governance and business, she said, was a long way from “there yet”.

Clark has read the research. It all concludes that gender diversity in leadership teams and boardrooms is linked to commercial success and better decision-making. “You hear male directors say, ‘We can’t find the women.’ Well, look for them,” she said. “They’re there.”

She was also unequivocal on the subject of domestic violence and sex abuse, calling New Zealand’s rates shameful and declaring her support for the #MeToo movement. That came with no prompting from Mau, who in February launched #MeTooNZ, an investigation into sexual harassment in New Zealand workplaces. Since then, she’s been inundated with calls from people wanting to share their stories.

The conversation veered off to Clark’s eight years heading the United Nations Development Programme, the US presidential campaign, and her enthusiastic embrace of social media. “You’re the queen of Twitter now,” said Mau. “And Snapchat,” Clark quipped.

Back in the lobby, sales of Clark’s new book Women, Equality, Power (Allen & Unwin) picked up, briskly, where they’d left off at the wine and canapés stage of the evening. I wandered into a side-room, where panels displayed some of EGGS’ notable old girls. Clark rightly held centre stage, between fellow politicians Jeanette Fitzsimons and Chlöe Swarbrick, and more curiously, broadcaster Angela D’Audney: “Angela… took an interest in drama,” read the caption. I bet.

I’m an ambivalent alumna. I couldn’t wait to leave the school – to ditch the stultifying rules and dull curriculum. I’m slightly suspicious of people who say high school was the best years of their life. Where were they? At East High, duetting with Zac Efron? Then again, I left EGGS in the 70s and the past really is another country.

The fundraiser also got me thinking about my old class, before we split into arts or science streams in our final exam years. That one group of 30-plus girls produced an international recording artist, award-winning composer, senior research fellow, professor of medicine, veterinary surgeon, engineer, two leading architects, film-set art director, publishing executive and editor – and that’s just among those whose careers I know about or could track online. I don’t recall anything resembling career advice at school, but what all our teachers had was the highest expectations of us; it was simply assumed we would continue our education, and forge interesting and challenging careers. Did we then encounter sexism, harassment and glass ceilings in the workplace? Absolutely. Although not at Clark’s high-stakes level.

“Strength is always admired in men, not necessarily in women,” she told this new generation of EGGS students and their parents. “No one rolled out the red carpet for me and said, ‘Welcome, Helen’. I had to knock the door down. But all leaders need resilience – and sometimes thick skin and deaf ears.”

That she couldn’t knock down the mighty door to the office of secretary-general of the UN is the world’s loss, frankly. They didn’t want a woman; certainly not a woman who gets things done. Still, Helen Clark – EGGS class of 67 – is not done yet. I have high expectations. 

Latest

Best of Wellington: What to do in the capital
98651 2018-11-15 00:00:00Z Travel

Best of Wellington: What to do in the capital

by Metro

A round-up of great things to do in Wellington, plus where to experience the best of capital culture and tips on where to stay.

Read more
Irish music star Damien Dempsey's spiritual connection with Aotearoa
99078 2018-11-14 14:27:13Z Music

Irish music star Damien Dempsey's spiritual connec…

by James Belfield

Damien Dempsey’s music recounts Ireland’s traumatic history, but it resonates half a world away in New Zealand.

Read more
Andrew Little announces decision to re-enter Pike River Mine
99051 2018-11-14 07:16:04Z Planet

Andrew Little announces decision to re-enter Pike …

by RNZ

Andrew Little says the plan to enter the drift at Pike River, using the existing access tunnel, was by far the safest option.

Read more
The NZ armed forces' toxic culture of impunity and cover-ups revealed
98957 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Crime

The NZ armed forces' toxic culture of impunity and…

by Nicky Hager

Is a defence force that regularly covers up and denies wrongdoings among its ranks – from war crimes to drunkenness – operating above the law?

Read more
How Kiwi Anthony McCarten wrote the Queen movie Bohemian Rhapsody
98989 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Movies

How Kiwi Anthony McCarten wrote the Queen movie Bo…

by Russell Baillie

New Zealand screenwriter Anthony McCarten talks about Bohemian Rhapsody, his second big film of 2018 after the Churchill drama Darkest Hour.

Read more
Excavated cult-horror film Suspiria is an ambitious failure
98994 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Movies

Excavated cult-horror film Suspiria is an ambitiou…

by James Robins

Released in 1977, Dario Argento’s campy Suspiria was a landmark in cult horror. Now, director Luca Guadagnino has remade it in a new style.

Read more
Scottish-Bengali crime writer Abir Mukherjee on his 'cultural schizophrenia'
98517 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Books

Scottish-Bengali crime writer Abir Mukherjee on hi…

by Craig Sisterson

Abir Mukherjee uses India’s painful struggle for independence as the backdrop for his Sam Wyndham detective stories.

Read more
Lunchtime legends: 5 hospo stalwarts on Auckland's restaurant evolution
93848 2018-11-14 00:00:00Z Auckland Eats

Lunchtime legends: 5 hospo stalwarts on Auckland's…

by Alice Neville

Restaurant veterans Chris Rupe, Krishna Botica, Tony Adcock, Geeling Ching and Judith Tabron reflect on the Auckland dining scene.

Read more