I was interested in the paper this morning (yes, a real life physical newspaper, but you can link to the article here) about a new diversity initiative from Simplicity. Simplicity is an investment company that specializes in providing a simple and economic option for Kiwisaver members, Kiwisaver being New Zealand’s voluntary, work-based savings initiative designed to help citizens with their long-term saving for retirement. What piqued my interest, however, is unrelated to Kiwisaver, but rather an initiative that Simplicity is taken to foster greater diversity.

Managing director of Simplicity, Sam Stubbs is quoted as saying that it is crazy that, going by current statistics, his daughter has a four percent chance of ever becoming a CEO in New Zealand. Rather than simply fester about the situation, however, Stubbs decided to use his position to change things. He wrote to the chief executives of New Zealand’s top 50 companies advising them that Simplicity has a new diversity initiative.

Simplicity, which already is flying the flag for diversity itself, with a majority of female directors and trustees, a wide selection of ethnicities represented and an impressive 40 percent of senior management being women, has challenged the companies, all of which Simplicity has an ownership stake in, to come up with a diversity plan in the next six months, and to implement it within the next five years.

Stubbs is letting the companies define what diversity means to them:

It’s not up to us to tell the companies what diversity should mean to them, but it will be obvious when you see photos of the board and management when it’s been achieved. Progress, or lack thereof, will be obvious within a year.”

Simplicity has undertaken to publish an annual diversity scorecard, to build transparency and visibility around diversity across the business sector.

Reading the news made me thing about the organizations I’m involved with. Of the companies I am an investor in, I’m pleased that a number have awesome female CEO’s: Vanessa Wilson for StorReduce, Nicola Valentine for Lendr, Angie Judge for Dexibit and Miriana Lowrie for 1Centre. That’s a pretty awesome start, but reflecting on the boards I’m involved in, the diversity levels are less than ideal. Other than CEO representation, there are no women sitting on the commercial boards that I’m a part of. This is typical of more general statistics – a mere four percent of chief executives and chairpersons of NZX 50 companies were women, and only 13 percent of directors, while even fewer were Maori, Polynesian or Asian.

It would be easy to say that, especially for early stage startups, survival is so tenuous that any diversity initiatives are counter-productive. That would, however, be a cop out, the old saying “if not now, when and if not you, then whom?” springs to mind. If we want to change things we need to lead by example.

So I’m going to have a think about what I can do to increase the diversity within the boards and companies I’m involved with, an attempt to find a more diverse group of leaders, one that more accurately reflects the customer base and broader society they work within. This won’t happen overnight, but incremental change is better than doing nothing. What other ideas do people out there have?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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