In 2018, a Minister of the Crown and New Zealand Member of Parliament, Julie Anne Genter, herself a relatively-recent migrant to New Zealand, addressed a group of ten-year-olds at a Christchurch primary school. She decried the presence of “old, white men” (or OWMs) on the boards of New Zealand organisations and demanded they “move aside”.
Why this Minister in the Ardern-led government should not only comment on such an issue to kiddies who probably had no idea at all what a board (of trustees, directors or advisors) actually do, but make such comments to such an audience? Most youngsters present would undoubtedly have much-loved older uncles or granddads who fitted this description. So, in the young mind, “old white men” were suddenly painted by this Minister as some sort of “enemy” to be removed and replaced by younger, more able and preferably female, board members.
Genter’s statement is ageist, racist and sexist and appalling from a Minister of the Crown and an MP. I am amazed she was not taken to the Human Rights Commission .
And we all thought that this Ardern-led government was averse to stereotyping and minority insults and abuse? Ha Ha!!
In July 2019, a headline in the Dominion Post highlighted that after careful journalistic “research”, it transpires that a majority of currently-elected local body councillors are - yes, you guessed it-“old white men”.
No comment from either government or the media that these “old white men” are actually (a) a group of people who most generously offer their services to their communities by choice, and (b) that our communities elected them by due democratic process because, hopefully these candidates were able to demonstrate that they had the skills, abilities and experience to ably represent their communities at local and regional body level?
Oh, no. Our journalists concentrated not on skills, experience and abilities (aka merit) but decried this democratic outcome as somehow unreflective of and opposed to diversity.
A recent opinion piece by Martin van Beynen pointed out that we OWMs need to feel guilty most of the time for apparently we OWMs espouse all the negative behaviours which bedevil modern society. Yes, it’s our fault, not anyone else’s.
Obviously being a director of a sizeable New Zealand organisation is one of these negative behaviours.
The OWM demographic (as Ardern has dismissively described us) of “old white men” is indeed a minority in NZ. Continual denigration is actually in breach of the Human Rights Act, I think.
Let us dissect Genter’s claims that these old farts need to move aside and let their antitheses, young, female, ethnic, people take their place on various boards and committees or councils.
Is she referring to those who offer their services to the multitude of charitable organisations which provide services to a whole host of communities which her government does not currently fund? I am not aware of any charges of discrimination in favour of “old white men” in the charities sector. Most appointees to these bodies come with skills in fundraising and other forms of expertise including business acumen so spectacularly lacking in the charities sector. In short they are welcomed, regardless of their age, ethnicity or gender. So Genter is totally wrong if she is referring to the charities sector.
So, she must have been referring to the public sector - the myriad of government and SOE boards of government-owned businesses and agencies which have a substantial financial impact on contemporary New Zealand. Lotteries commission, Commerce Commission, etc, etc?
Nope - these organisations are renowned for employing political has-beens such as Michael Cullen, James Bolger, and so on. No need to ban “old white men” here. They deserve to be rewarded with board and SOE directorships for their past political services.
I Know! It is the private sector which Genter is totally opposed to. Of some 750,000 companies in New Zealand, only around 250 are in public ownership - ie listed on the NZX and whose shares can be traded. Of the vast remainder, these are privately-owned and closely-held companies, usually family groups whose boards are usually family members. Is Genter saying that these family companies should replace their family members with directors who are not “old white men”?
So, it must be those 250-odd publicly listed companies which she is demanding be not directed by “old white men”? But hold on, many of these companies have international shareholders who represent the interests of their overseas shareholders. Is Genter seriously demanding that these shareholders abandon their representatives, who almost certainly are there on merit, by representatives who are not “old, white (or Asian) men”? And what about the NZX and Institute of Directors in New Zealand policies to increase diversity on public boards? No comment!
“Old white men” have served New Zealand well over two centuries, including two World Wars and many subsequent conflicts. As our veterans grow older, will they too be denigrated as OWMs.
The propensity of politicians such as Genter, as well as many media journalists, to assign derogatory labels to groups of New Zealanders on the basis of their age, ethnicity, gender and/or political views has no place in our society today. Their political causes are poorly served when they have to resort to insults, abuse and name calling to get their warped views some traction.
So, OWMs, rise up and denounce these political and journalistic denigrators for the hypocrites that they are.
Henry Armstrong is retired, follows politics, and writes.