Companies are being urged to encourage more diversity on their boards in 2014.

The number of women directors is growing, but older white men still dominate.

Joanna Perry made the move from being a chartered accountant seven years ago, and is now a professional non-executive director on half-a-dozen boards.

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“I actually thought I could make a difference sitting around the board table impacting on shareholders’ value, which is what boards are all about,” she says.

But she’s still in the minority – just 14.8 percent of the directors in New Zealand are women.

That compares with 16.3 percent in Australia and 16.8 percent in the United States, but is well off Norway’s 40 percent, where quotas are in place.

“Getting the gender balance better and moving forward so there is a greater representation on boards is just the first frontier of diversity,” says Mighty River Power (MRP) chair Joan Withers.

“I think generally there is a long way to go.”

Several organisations are trying to encourage more diversity on boards, through mentoring schemes and training courses.

“Let’s not put lawyers and accountants on all the boards – let’s blend it, mix it up a bit,” says Henri Eliot of Board Dynamics.

“People who come from a health and safety background, that’s probably growing, I think around age as well, [let’s] bring on younger board members.”

Ms Withers says executive recruitment firms need to play their part.

“We really have to challenge executive recruitment firms to say ‘find us new people, find us good people’, and, you know, don’t supply me with a list as recently happened for a marketing-oriented director which contained not one woman on the long list.”

The days of the old boys’ network are changing, but Ms Perry thinks there’s still a way to go.

According to her, the more diversity there is, the stronger the board will be.

TV3 :Jan 6 2014