The recent speech by Minister of Womens Affairs, Julie Anne Genter, seems to have touched a raw nerve in some perhaps not so surprising areas. Whether it is on talk back radio with Chris Lynch, Mike Hosking or in the print media with Kate Hawkesby, some touchy characters have come out of the woodwork complaining about a supposed war on “old white men” (and old white women?). Is the war really on, or just a figment of conservative imaginations gone mad?
But before we start, I want to single out two particularly awesome people in my life. My parents John and Sue Glennie are, along with my brother Craig, the primary reasons I am who I am. The general knowledge, technical aptitude and social outlook they have instilled in me has made people remark in respect of my knowledge and at the same time marvel that I am a car groomer by profession.
She is a lady of incredible generosity, support and compassion. She was at home when I collapsed in the hallway with high blood pressure in 1989. She has been at my side through all of my medical trials, good and bad. She has made sure I get my medicine. Her time in Papua New Guinea as a charge nurse in Wewak gave her vital experience in the medical system. She has taught me much about social compassion and understanding the mechanics behind the scenes about why people behave as they do and how their circumstances influence them.
He is a man of immense integrity, fairness, and kindness. He has raised two very capable sons and now has an equally capable daughter-in-law. John Glennie taught me much of what I know today about environmental planning and sustainability, its impacts on society, the socio-economic arguments for and against proposed activities. He taught me to think critically and championed the sciences to me – my marks at school in science were mediocre, but my new found respect for the substances of the Periodic Table of the Elements is at least in part. Over many an evening meal – sometimes with relatives, and sometimes just with myself and/or my brother – many an informed conversation was had on subjects ranging from politics, to science, to arts to our own lives and outlooks. And all the better for it.
So much of my vision of New Zealand and the world today is formed by critical conversations I have with my parents and my brother, but also the many and varied people I have met – Colombians, Peruvians, Aussies, Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Britons, Japanese, Filipinos. And so much of this was made possible because my parents and brother – like me – do not see these nationalities as any lesser, even though we are the white people who know some of those Ms Genter was referring to. And the people of these nationalities have become great mates as a result.
Mr Glennie married a lady six years his senior. They are now in their 44th year of union. They are retired and living life as well as they can – art, gardening, fishing, among other pursuits, fill their time. Are they rich? I wouldn’t say that, but I can say that their earnings are the result of rock solid work ethics, a desire to learn and grow with their employment roles. But at the same time there is no denying she went to nursing school and he to university before market economics had a significant impact in New Zealand. They purchased the property they have before the market lost the plot. Their generation might be the ones under Ms Genters critical eye, but it is a fair demonstration that not all are bad.
So, pardon me if I look a bit surprised at people who say that there is a supposed war going on against old white men. When Ms Genter made that speech she was pointing out an elephant in the room.
If one looks at where the wealth and the socio-economic influence radiates from geographically, it is largely not from Africa or South/Latin America through no fault of their own. For very little in return, the outflow of considerable economic and social wealth, these two continents, along with south and central Asia, the southwest Pacific (barring Australia and New Zealand) It is largely from nations that are predominantly European-Caucasian in ethnic make up, and which have at one time or another been colonial powers whose combined control would have covered much of the world’s surface. If one looks across the corporate boardrooms of the major companies around the world – be it Facebook or British Petroleum, the cold fact of the matter is they are largely middle aged and white.
Since World War 2, a number of Asian nations, notably Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore have become significant economic power houses in their own right. Rebuilt rapidly to counter the perceived (and real)threat of Communism, they developed trade ties, built up their industries based on education and science and developed what are today well known brands and product lines. Most of the workforce was male and thus “old boy” clubs were allowed to develop, which still exist today in an attempt to defend what were golden times for their founding members. These companies exist across the westernized world. Toyota, whilst largely – and understandably Japanese – in composition, is like the others almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men. Similarly, China’s C.N.O.O.C. is almost exclusively made up of middle aged or otherwise older men.
With such similarity in the composition of these boards, despite – and perhaps because of – the small scattering of females (two on the Toyota board; three on the B.P. board; two on the Facebook board; 0 (zero) on the C.N.O.O.C. board), the truth is that Ms Genter is correct in her assessment. The lack of diversity potentially means a lesser interest in the social impacts on their staff, on their customers, on society and on the environment. A great example of this is Tokyo Electricity Corporation, who operated the defunct Fukushima nuclear power station before Dai-ichi, Dai-nii and Dai-san reactors melted down after being hit by the tsunami following the earthquake of 11 March 2011. Their social disconnect with Japan at a time when they needed to be left right and centre on the meltdown emergency was thunderous – that no one has been formally charged with criminal negligence and endangering the lives of so many people is mind blowing.
But whatever you think or say because of this, remember that not all “old white men” are bad. I know a number of such men in my life other than my father who are absolute gentlemen, a pleasure to be around, with considerable knowledge that they are happy to impart and willing to acknowledge not all like them have been so well grounded.