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We hold events for our alumni, friends, and the general public for people to connect with the important conversations in leadership.

Subject matter experts and prominent New Zealand leaders share their knowledge and engage with the audience, sparking new ideas and innovation as minds from different backgrounds converge and focus their energy on a salient issue or theme.

Sina Wendt-Moore: Women in Leadership & the Case for Embracing Diversity

Sina was joined by Jacki Johnson (CEO of IAG), Hon. Louise Upston (Minister for Women) and Victoria Crone (MD of Xero NZ) to present at the Diversity of Business Breakfast at the recent Xerocon 2015.

The theme of the event was championing diversity - a topic close to Sina's heart. Below are her thoughts on women in leadership and the case for embracing diversity.

Xerocon Breakfast.jpg

Talofa Lava, Malo le Soifua manuia ma le lagi e mama,

Nga mihi nui kia koutou te whanau o te iwi ko Xero!

Tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa

Good morning!

I have been asked to share with you some thoughts and ideas on women in leadership. I will do this by looking at gender within the context of the broader diversity challenge facing NZ as a society. I will share with you the leadership model – the Athena Doctrine – which I think we need to adopt and look briefly at the importance of building our CQ – our cultural intelligence as a nation.

Current state of play - The gender gap for women in NZ today is still significant on many levels – many women today leave university with higher qualifications than our male peers, yet we get paid almost 13% less to do the same work, we have a higher unemployment rate compared to men, and we are sorely underrepresented at all levels of management & senior leadership positions across all sectors. Recent reports and research show that NZ has gone backwards in terms of its global metrics for women in leadership. 121 years after we first won the right to vote – we aren’t making the gains at the pace that I think we should be or could be.

Women in the world “hold up half the sky”, (Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn) and I think that one of the single biggest opportunities of the 21st century is to remove the barriers, institutionalised gender bias and create opportunities for women to succeed – until we do, our society is missing out on the value that 51% of the population could bring to improve and grow our country.

The global conversation about gender diversity in leadership is being closely mirrored by the call for broader diversity and inclusion in leadership that encompasses ethnicity, age, life experience, geography, industry/sector, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation and so on. This drive for diversity isn’t about equity, equal rights, being fair. I’m not talking about some PC Noah’s Ark 2x2 approach that ticks off some EEO guidelines, legislative policy/checklist on a superficial level. I’m talking about taking a really strategic approach to maximizing and leveraging the benefits of the rich diversity of NZ to help us grow high performing organisations that can deliver great results for companies, organisations, communities and society.

Why is this so important? Well, let’s consider NZ’s demographic – it is rapidly evolving – as the 4th most ethnically diverse country in the OECD, with almost 25% of our population born overseas, and with 4 generations in a workplace - there are significant challenges and opportunities as we look to NZ’s future workforce, our economic growth and social change. We belong to a fast-paced, globally connected, high-tech world that is changing at a wicked pace, complex and dynamic. We are faced with challenges never experienced before so we need diverse leaders who can find new solutions and work together in different ways. 

Look at me – I cannot separate my gender from my ethnicity or other parts of my life experience and uniqueness… I am a woman, but I am also Samoan – and afakasi/half-caste Samoan at that, I just turned 50 years of age (GenXer – the bridge generation), born & raised in Samoa, I belong to a huge extended Samoan family, I'm the eldest child of 3, I’m a migrant to NZ, a parent of 2 NZ-born children of mixed ethnicity, I’m a university graduate with a diverse professional background and so on etc etc…

As a whole human being - I bring a unique set of world views, life experiences that impact and influence everything I do. We all do – and we must explore, value and maximise fully the diversity of thought & unique life experience people bring to our companies.

Fully embracing diversity of ideas and perspectives will ultimately equip our businesses to be bolder, more innovative and responsive to customers and stakeholders, meet emerging markets, and ensure a fairer workplace for all. Diversity is a powerful driver of business value. I want to acknowledge Rod, Vic and the Xero team for your leadership in your approach to diversity in your business practices, and providing a forum for all of us to have this conversation today.

The organisation I lead – Leadership New Zealand  has a vision to build a leadership culture that weaves together the diversity of NZ leaders - from every generation, ethnicity, gender and every industry sector of New Zealand together. We see diversity as a key enabler to achieving ever-higher levels of engagement, creativity and innovation. NZ needs leaders with broadened leadership mindsets  who value and can work with diversity, who are open, adaptable and agile, who can collaborate, are inclusive, are able connect through conversation, who can innovate and co-create to build companies and community.

Let’s we go back to the specific issue of increasing women in leadership. There is growing body of research out there on the barriers and gender biases working against women that built into our systems, structures as well as substantive research on the tangible benefits of gender diversity in leadership – social, economic, cultural and political – there is no end of proof/evidence for making this an imperative on all levels.

How do we get more women to the decision-making table to influence and drive change? Change must occur at two levels: 1) Mindset change at highest level in organisations to a) valuing diversity as a lever – a catalyst for growth, and then b) making a commitment to review and change organisational practices to remove gender bias, and actively champion women into leadership. 2) Mindset change at individual level – working with women in our businesses to strengthen and build up their confidence to step forward (Lean In) – to be more courageous to seize leadership opportunities.

So why isn’t it happening? And how do we get really disruptive change and momentum? I think it requires a significant mindset change about what contemporary, modern leadership requires - I think we need to adopt the Athena Doctrine!

What is this Athena Doctrine? In 2013 a book was published called “The Athena Doctrine - How Women (and men who think like them) will rule the future”[1]. Written by John Gezerma and Michael D’Antonio, it recounts the results of a huge global research initiative they conducted investigating how the world defined feminine/masculine qualities, and leadership. 

Let me tell you more about their work and what the world had to say. John Gezerma manages BrandAsset Valuator – largest survey panel in the world. In 2011, they conducted a survey of 64,000 people across 13 countries (that represent 65% of the world’s GDP – Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, UK and USA ) reflecting a wide range of cultural, geographical, political, religious and economic diversity.

Initially, they wanted to gauge how people felt about the times we live in. Large numbers across all countries (70-80%) were anxious and negative, expressing high levels of distrust / dissatisfaction for organisations, government, the economy and especially with the behaviour of men – more than 2/3 (global average).

People are very frustrated with a world dominated by codes of what they see as traditionally masculine thinking and behaviour – codes of control, aggression, competition, black & white thinking that have contributed to the many problems faced today (wars, income inequality, poverty, risk-taking and scandal).

Nearly 2/3 of people around the world (this includes men!) believe the world would be a better place if men thought more like women – a belief shared regardless of age, income, nation. Millenials – young men & women – agreed strongly. They are much more interested in human connection/community – adaptable, flexible, ethical behaviour and diversity – and as a result they are more hopeful about the future.

Leadership Qualities of the ideal modern leader (many are considered feminine)

Across the globe, people want a more expressive style of leader:

  • a person who is patient, flexible, intuitive, reasonable, passionate, empathetic, selfless, loyal;
  • someone who shares their feelings and emotions openly & honestly;
  • they want to connect with those in power more personally;
  • they want leaders who will break a gridlock through reason not ideology;
  • long-term thinkers who plan for a sustainable future (not posturing for expediency);
  • leaders who are cause driven (not self-focussed);
  • leaders that that listen, build consensus;
  • decisiveness and resilience (considered more masculine traits) are important but the data highlighted the definition of “winning” is changing:
    • it’s becoming about a more inclusive construct than a zero-sum game!; and,
    • collaboration & sharing credit are considered more effective than aggression & control.

The type of feminine leadership they describe is not squishy or soft… It is wise, quietly strong and reflects a strength of character that is admirable and noble, requiring true integrity and confidence. To be vulnerable and connect to others, we also must be courageous. To the authors, these qualities resembled the Greek Goddess – Athena. Venerated for her intelligence, skills, civilizing influence and fairness, Athena was a goddess of industry, arts, crafts. She gave the Greeks the olive tree that sustained their economy and culture. When conflicts arose she responded with clever tactics and strategy (unlike her brother Ares who acted in violence). 

If Athena is the personification of the qualities that suit our times, the ideals she represents can be considered a kind of doctrine guiding us towards effective leadership and success in our work, communities and lives. And although predominantly a feminine set of skills, traits and attitudes it is a model available and essential for men who hope to thrive in an era of constant change.

It does not mean the ‘end of men’ – the research suggests what is needed is a balancing that vastly increases the capacity of both men and women to solve problems and create a good life. This is not a male vs female issue – it’s about ‘both and’. 81% of people say that man or woman – we need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today’s world!!

  • Men can be as caring as women, and women can be as analytical and assertive as men.
  • Our gender is who we are, not what we can be – and we must all see feminine values not as belonging to one gender but as a new form of innovation for today’s world.

The Athena Doctrine – is about wise, courageous, humane and cooperative leadership.

The essence of modern leadership is feminine – Gezerma & D’Antonio suggest it is the new operating system of the 21st century, and encourage us to embrace feminine qualities as a competitive advantage!


So in your worlds, as you consider ways to better embrace diversity in your businesses, and to help the businesses / clients you support, I think the key is to build “Cultural Intelligence” in our organisations. Now, we have all heard about IQ – Intelligence Quotient, and EQ – Emotional Intelligence… I’d like to suggest the defining intelligence we need for 21st Century leadership is a natural evolution from those – Cultural Intelligence – CQ.

A new book by Julia Middleton came out last year called CQ: the Competitive Edge for Leaders Crossing Borders. She frames CQ as broad ‘cultural intelligence’ – where 'culture' is thought of as the collective mindset of people who have things in common. We belong to lots of different 'cultures' and learn cues from each other within these groups – so cultural divides occur on multiple levels beyond influence of ethnic culture, into generation, sector, gender, abilities, geography, religion and so on. (As per my own example – you see how I represent and belong to multiple cultures).

CQ is about actively embracing the difference, building bridges across the difference and learning how to lead and work effectively in unfamiliar surroundings, and break down barriers between peoples of different “cultures”.

Cultural intelligence is made up of two things – CORE and FLEX. If we want to build our CQ and leverage diversity to drive positive change, we need to start by being self-aware and identifying our beliefs, values & biases – understanding what is at our very CORE (those things that define me, that won’t change easily, the over my dead body list). The challenge is then looking at how much we can FLEX from our core – where we are prepared to move, adapt and change.

The challenge for every New Zealander is to go beyond everyday life, and build capacity through 'flexing' and connecting people around what matters most for them. Prerequisites for CQ – requires a deep interest in people, insight into oneself, and being prepared to stand up to cultural intolerance. We get CQ by being open and connecting with others across the diversity in meaningful ways – using our CQ – to step outside our “normal” ways of being in the world.

AotearoaNZ is a small, connected and agile society with ‘1.5 degrees of separation’ – and small business is the backbone of our economy – as leaders of your businesses, and in your industry sectors, you all have a huge opportunity to lead the way in building the cultural intelligence of our economy, our nation  looking beyond IQ & EQ – global shifts are demanding leaders and businesses with CQ. If we can embrace and leverage the power of our diversity, we can show the world how it’s done.


So, in closing – if we tackle diversity, adopt the Athena doctrine as a model for our leadership and work on the CQ (cultural intelligence) of our organisations we will truly be able to engage and enable women to fully participate and leverage the power, strength and wisdom they can bring to the table.

In this Age of Athena, the leader for the future is someone who is able to view the world through different lenses and mindsets, someone who has high CQ, who challenges themselves to step outside their normal way of seeing, who can create and connect across the va – the sacred space in between peoples.

It is people – men and women (aka you and me!)  that build systems, create structures, develop cultures within organisations – so it will take all of US - people / individuals with the strength of conviction, courage to be disruptive enough to challenge and status quo and build new cultures and systems – to create a different leadership culture that serves the needs of all people and society in the 21st century and beyond.

I wish you every success in the coming year!

Soifua ma ia manuia

Sina Wendt-Moore

I welcome comments and am happy to talk about any of the ideas raised in this paper. I’m also happy for this paper to be shared, disseminated, but if you wish to reproduce any parts of it I’d appreciate you seeking my permission first.

References: you can get good insights into The Athena Doctrine + key data by going to these links:

Short overview of key findings and The Athena Doctrine in action around the world.

A presentation by John Gezerma about the research.

John Gezerma talks about The Athena Doctrine.

An article focussed on relevance of The Athena Doctrine to small business. 


Check out Lean In - excellent educational and inspirational articles, research stories.

Some interesting articles – related to this topic that you might like to read:

What if the glass ceiling isn't what we think it is? Talks about the glass ceiling being more of a values filter – that doesn’t just exclude women, but anyone who doesn’t look like those in formal power/at the top.

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? Despite the title it is not a beat up of men, rather it highlights the tendency for us to confuse confidence with competence and we must be aware of how differently we perceive / measure that in men and women. The male author of this blog shows how the gender bias towards masculine traits of aggressiveness, overconfidence being connected somehow to better leadership, actually leads to more incompetent men being promoted into leadership. Perhaps the answer to the gender issue is not about encouraging women to ‘lean in’ and adopt the very masculine characteristics that we know lead to incompetent leadership, but for us to start measuring/valuing competence against the more successful/effective feminine traits and behaviours.

HBR Women Rising: the Unseen Barriers Research shows, the authors write, that the subtle “second generation” gender bias still present in organizations and in society disrupts the learning cycle at the heart of becoming a leader. Women must establish credibility in a culture that is deeply conflicted about whether, when, and how they should exercise authority. Practices that equate leadership with behaviors considered more common in men suggest that women are simply not cut out to be leaders. Furthermore, the human tendency to gravitate to people who are like oneself leads powerful men to sponsor and advocate for other men when leadership opportunities arise.

Feminine leadership & The Surprising Neuroscience of Gender Inequity

[1] “The Athena Doctrine - How Women (and men who think like them) will rule the future” Jossey-Bass, 2013, John Gezerma & Michael D’Antonio..