#EmbraceEquity: Celebrating progress and challenging inequity in our everyday

Written by Bronwyn Huband.

NZBWN KEA March 2023 046Dozens of Kiwi women - and a few males - gathered at the New Zealand High Commission in central London on March 6th for our International Women’s Day event.

Run by the New Zealand Business Women’s Network and KEA New Zealand, this year’s event championed the theme #EmbraceEquity and encouraged attendees to explore what equity means in our everyday lives. 

After an opportunity for our guests  to mix and mingle, a panel of inspirational Kiwi Wāhine Toa explored what the theme meant to them in their respective fields.

Jo Fletcher Manawa, Head of VFX Operations at Jellyfish Pictures, shared her experience as a female in the film industry, from pushing for “one-to-one” hiring of males and females in her workforce to creating a diverse and inclusive workforce through a caring and supportive environment.

Speaking of diversity hiring, Jo said that while there are “a lot of questions around whether it should be done”, she believes that if you want to create a new normal, it’s necessary to “pioneer” and push to make this a reality.

“People are not going to aim for these opportunities, if they can’t see themselves being there,” she said.

Also featured on our panel was Sarah Smart, who runs The Collective UK, Epicurean Dairy Ltd, the straight up yoghurt brand which started in NZ more than 13 years ago.

During her 10 years with the company, Sarah has overseen The Collective products taking over fridges in the UK. She first worked for The Collective in Marketing & Innovation, before taking over leadership of the New Zealand business, and moving with her family to London to grow the UK business - her second stint in the UK. 

Sarah said she has experienced being the only woman in a boardroom, and noted that “diversity doesn’t work when there’s only one thing - or person - that’s diverse”.

While workplace quotas, or positive action, was a good first step, she said her mission after landing a board role was figuring out “how I am getting more females around this board table”. 

Speaking to what role equity plays in an international law firm, Angela Kearns told of her experience as Partner at Clifford Chance, specialising in complex real estate developments and regeneration projects, investments in the real estate sector, joint ventures and financings. 

Angela spoke of how she felt her antipodean roots had been advantageous in her rise up through the company, as she “didn’t get pigeon-holed” within the British class system and was therefore judged on her merits.

While the culture had initially been very male-dominated, she said that “growing up in New Zealand I was used to that rugby culture, I wasn’t daunted by it so I felt like I could fit in”. 

Angela was watching an interesting development within the corporate world, with corporate enterprises beginning to penalise their suppliers financially if they didn’t have enough female partners on their legal matters, or hadn’t put forward enough LGBT+ or BAME candidates.

“We’re really starting to see it come through, that change is driven by financial penalty and financial incentive,” she said. “Unfortunately, or fortunately - depending on your perspective, sometimes that’s the only way to get some people to listen”.

Speaking after the panel, host Mary Fenwick said she had been interested to hear whether people had a negative reaction to taking proactive steps towards equity - such as positive action.

“The idea is that what you’re doing is overcoming discrimination. Some people talk about it as positive discrimination but I don’t think that’s a really useful way to think about it,” she said.

“What we’re doing is taking positive action to remove any potential barriers - so we’re kind of counteracting that discrimination that already exists. It results in an uptick in our collective intelligence, when we release all the potential that is already there.”

Our attendees and panel were fueled by food from the wonderful Suze Catering  - with lamingtons to finish - and sent home with sweet treats from The Collective. A plentiful supply of Kiwi made Invivo Wines and beers from Wellington brewery Yeastie Boys kept everyone refreshed throughout an evening of shared wisdom and a dose of rigorous debate.