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“Women of Influence” awards: from the left or the right?

Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, June 27th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, employment, feminism, john key, Left, socialism, Unions, wages - Tags: ,

I tend to regard anything launched by the Fairfax Media with suspicion, especially when it’s partnered with Westpac.  However, I do think there’s something to be said for their last (Gillard-inspired?) initiative: their launch of the the Westpac-Fairfax Women of Influence NZ awards.  On average, women are in less powerful an highly paid jobs than men.  And the pay gap is stuck at women earning on average around 80% of that for men.  Many women (along with some men) do not receive social recognition for their valuable (often unpaid or underpaid) contributions to society. However, the Fairfax awards put too much focus on an individualist approach that foregrounds money, profits and business.

The first problem I have with these awards, is that it is included in the business section of the Stuff website. And along with that, the main focus of the explanatory article by Fiona Rotherham is on women as leaders and as high paid executives.  Furthermore, the focus is on individual women who have a major “influence” on the everyday lives of Kiwis.

The underlying, implied values are of an individualistic meritocracy, and more aligned with the male dominated “Networks of influence”, into which John Key has spent most of his life trying to insert himself.

However, another article about Marilyn Waring by Terje Langeland, which is included in the Stuff “Women Of Influence” section, does seem to point in a totally different direction.  It focuses on Waring’s long time research and campaigning around the issue of unpaid work largely done by women.

Twenty-five years after she directed a broadside at the global economic order for ignoring the unpaid work women do, Marilyn Waring is still waiting.

Her 1988 book, “If Women Counted,” persuaded the United Nations to redefine gross domestic product, inspired new accounting methods in dozens of countries and became the founding document of the discipline of feminist economics.

For all that, Waring notes, men dominate most institutions that rule the economy.

“It’s a disappointment to still find ourselves in a pretty barren desert,” said Waring, 60, a professor of public policy at Auckland University of Technology, and a former MP and Reserve Bank board member.

Women who do rise to leadership in business, finance and politics often find themselves playing by rules that don’t suit them – and that don’t necessarily lead to good decisions for the planet, Waring said.

“You really need to be a testosterone junkie in lots of these positions,” she said. “And if you don’t want to be a testosterone junkie, then you’re left out of the game.”

Much of the world’s economic activity takes place in the form of unpaid work by women: from fetching water, carrying firewood and tending animals in subsistence agricultural countries, to caring for children, the sick and elderly in developing and developed nations alike. Much of this is still left out of GDP calculations and policy decisions.

“When you don’t have all of that in front of you, you just make really bad policy,” she said. “You make very bad policy about the next generation, about the environment.”

I think there is a huge problem in the way economists and related developers of government policies judge the economic value of work.  They tend to ignore or undervalue the work (paid and unpaid) that has been traditionally done by women.  Often this work makes a more positive contribution to the social and economic good than some highly paid jobs in the private sector- banksters who speculate on money and do nothing productive, for instance.

The exploitative nature of gender inequality, resulting in underpayment for work, is also highlighted in the current case being considered by a judge.  John Ryall, Servo’s National Secretary, explained the issue in a post on The Standard on Monday. It has to do with the fact that female-dominated occupations suffer from the historical legacy of being paid less than male-dominated occupations requiring similar levels of skills and effort.

The case, taken by the Service and Food Workers Union supported by the Nurses Organisation, focuses on long-term caregiver Kristine Bartlett and whether her pay rate of $14.43 an hour is consistent with the Equal Pay Act 1972.


The Union’s argument is that the Equal Pay Act 1972, which extended the 1960 Government Service Equal Pay Act to the private sector, is designed not just to bring equal pay between male and female pay rates for the same work in the same workplace, but has provisions to apply a broader application.


It is envisaged in section 3(1)(b) of the Equal Pay Act, which says that in female-dominated occupations the Employment Court needs to assess what a male worker would be paid for the same skills, responsibility, service and degree of effort if the gender segmentation did not exist.

There may be some benefits to women in general by recognising achievements in business and leadership.  However, until there are systemic changes, this will mainly benefit a small number of high-flying women, and reinforce the elitist values and power of the likes of Westpac and Fairfax Media.

A left wing approach to gender (and other) inequalities and exploitation, would be more focused on

  • changing the understanding of the relationship between economic and social benefits to society;
  • would stop prioritising the economy over the social good;
  • and would focus much more on the collective endeavours that benefit society.  

And it wouldn’t be aligning itself with a celebrity culture approach to rewarding individual women (and men) in business.

11 comments on ““Women of Influence” awards: from the left or the right?”

  1. Rosetinted 1

    Just an initial comment before I read thoroughly.
    I vote Margaret Bazley for her ‘influence’. She started off as a nurse and has proceeded to tell people what was good for them in her opinion ever since and has been well rewarded for it. There is hope for such recognition for many on this blog who follow in her footsteps. She has ‘blazed’ her way on to the hardwood of NZ in a fine example of pokerwork.

    Career – ‎Commission of Inquiry into Police – ‎Inquiry into legal aid – ‎Other service

    Apr 14, 2007 – Dame Margaret Bazley has accused the men at the centre of the police rape trials of using a private investigator in an attempt to discredit her …

    The 2011 Blake Medalist: Dame Margaret Bazley
    Seen by many as the country’s most respected public servant and problem solver , Dame Margaret Bazley has demonstrated transformational leadership that has …

    Jun 4, 2012 – Dame Margaret Bazley credits her Queen’s Birthday honour to her latest controversial role as chair of Environment Canterbury.

    Jun 8, 2013 – Environment Canterbury boss Dame Margaret Bazley has launched a blistering attack on the Christchurch City Council, slamming “staff who …

    Not forgetting her fine detective work in the legal aid ‘disgrace.’

  2. BLiP 2

    It always seems odd to me when New Zealand national awards for spectacular New Zealanders are branded by foreign-owned multinational companies. In this instance, I suggest that any woman worth her salt would avoid this festival of fail. With the obvious exception of Ray Avery, the judges panel is such that to be measured by it is of absolutely no consequence.

    • rosy 2.1

      And of those not worth their salt I suggest Paula Bennett wins. She’s influenced many more lives that she has a right to, and almost all for the worse.

  3. Cactus Kate 3

    “You really need to be a testosterone junkie in lots of these positions,” she said

    Way to sexually stereotype other women from someone who is meant to be a leading feminist. Imagine her testosterone levels are the same or even higher than most women in business. Her generalisation is about as atrocious as a man commenting that all women working on goat farms are less a woman because they wear gumboots and don’t put on make up. She would scream at that.

    • karol 3.1

      Hmmm. Well, I understood that “testosterone” bit as being about the level of aggression and/or “masculine” culture that there is in the occupations she’s talking about. That paragraph follows this bit:

      Women who do rise to leadership in business, finance and politics often find themselves playing by rules that don’t suit them – and that don’t necessarily lead to good decisions for the planet, Waring said.

      It’s about “business, finance and politics” as being permeated by a traditional “masculine” culture. So any woman being successful has to conform to that culture in order to succeed, even if it goes against the kind of culture they have previously been more used to.

    • Mary 3.2

      She’d scream if a woman said it, too. What’s your point?

    • Ennui 3.3

      You are writing again Prickly One, The hand must be better, excellent.

  4. AsleepWhileWalking 4

    “Women of Influence” in the business section….*sigh* I think the irony is lost on most.

    I would nominate (were this a real contest, but of course it is not):

    Louise Nicolas
    A number of Greens/ex Greens that come to mind…my own bias… : )
    QoT – influential for me anyway!
    Louisa Wall

    • Ennui 4.2

      I nominate my mother, eighty years a tower of strength, done more to help her community than self serving business types. Career teacher, two decades on community board / council, no fuss no awards. All round champion.
      Ditto everyone elses mothers. They have my vote.

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