30+ Years of Directors Fees Analysis

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Strategic Pay is celebrating thirty years of annual publication of Directors Fees. This study is the longest running Directors Fees survey in New Zealand and provides extensive data about commercial changes over the years.

By comprehensively analysing and reporting data throughout this time period we have captured expected trends such as the increase in women Board members along with unexpected disparities caused by events like the GFC and Covid 19 Pandemic.

In our Executive Summary (please contact us for a copy) we highlight key changes in gender pay gaps; differing work expectations of Chair/Board members; the difference in pay compared to the 1990s; and how the Board is much more accountable in this ‘new normal’ world.

Recently Strategic Pay have been collaborating with Mind the Gap around gender equality and pay transparency so it is intriguing to see the changes for women in leadership. Things are certainly improving, but there is still a long way to go.

Gender Disparity:

In 1991 the title was Chairman (not Chair) and boards were a male dominated environment. Since then we’ve made the title gender neutral and recorded a steady increase in women Chairs and Board members:

• In 2013 14% of Chairs and 24% of directors were female.
• In 2022 24% of Chairs and 38% of directors were female.
• Chairs of private sector publicly listed NZX companies are paid 69% more (at the median) than those of unlisted private sector organisations.

Female representation on Boards has grown however the pay range isn’t equal yet and this may surprise some people. Directors’ fees are standardised so it is not an issue with the Boards themselves. However we have found that many women sit on Not for Profit and Public Sector Boards and are paid quite poorly in this sector compared to the more financially beneficial commercial sector.

Numerous international research projects have demonstrated a positive correlation between women in leadership with increased business performance. As more women move into senior leadership roles our surveys should start to demonstrate a more comparable pay rate in future.

The Catalyst report (The Bottom Line: Corporate performance and women’s representation on Boards, 2007) found that in all measures the companies with the most women board members outperformed those with the least.

Read more: Women on Boards: Why women on company boards are good for business.

Workloads and Financial Remuneration

Our first Director Fee survey in 1991 found that 39% of Board Directors were ages 60+. There is a perception that ‘back in the day’ Directors looked forward to the AGMs to have a catch up with their cronies over asparagus rolls and that Board membership was just an wee hobby after retirement.

Thankfully this perception (accurate or otherwise) has changed and Board members are highly respected specialists who provide a strong skillset in both business and people management along with contemporary ideas to their team. It’s not just the domain of the retirees any more, many members are still working so their commitment is a significant financial and time investment:

• In 2019 Chairs were expected to put in 150 hours and Directors were expected to put in 96 hours.
• In 2022 Chairs were expected to put in 250 hours and Directors were expected to put in 165 hours.
• Chairs are expected to put in 46% more hours and Directors 38% more hours compared to 2013.
• Chair & Director fees only increased by 14% & 18% respectively.

In this age where people are working smarter with massive technology advances why are our Board members working 38-46% more?


Directors must have a strong awareness of all organisation dealings and be prepared to take accountability if things go wrong. New Zealand’s history has demonstrated prominent Board members that were held to account for their actions (or lack thereof). The former directors of Mainzeal Property and Construction Ltd were ordered to pay $36m for breaching their director duties by trading while the business was insolvent.

Pike River Mine Directors (who had no experience in mines) assumed Health and Safety was being managed by the organisation without needing their input. The responsibility lies within the organisation but in this case employees’ concerns and feedback were simply ignored:

“The Pike River inquiry heard repeatedly how the company these men ran refused to listen to workers, excluded the union at every opportunity and created a culture where workers learned not to speak out for fear of being disciplined,” EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell.

Read more: Pike River directors’ comments ‘disgraceful’ – union

Now the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 ensures Board Members are held accountable for injury or death alongside the owners and CEO. It’s too late for Pike River Mine sadly but it will remain a sobering reminder for Board members to take their responsibilities seriously.

The Impact of Covid:

We’re sure this won’t be a surprise, but increased risk and uncertainty around the pandemic has added to Directors’ workloads significantly. Our most recent report indicates the majority of directors felt that risk management issues have been the biggest contributor to Boards’ increased time commitments. This will be an interesting trend to follow, especially if the pandemic continues and strategy still isn’t allocated the time it requires.

In 2020 many Board fees were decreased to match their executives and greater organisations who took pay cuts to support the business in uncertain times. Listed companies (especially in investments and construction) are increasing their rates now but there is no change in the public sector due to pay restraints.

The Future of Boards:

The Public/Not for Profit sector is very deliberate in their Board selection by promoting gender equality and diversity. However they simply can’t compete with the higher rates on offer in the commercial sector therefore they heavily rely on people who aren’t focused on fees and/or have a passion for the sector. But even the commercial sector will struggle to find Directors soon.

We haven’t seen direct evidence of talent shortages impacting the Board level just yet, but this is something we are watching closely because of the tight labour market. Talent shortages are likely to flow through to Boards eventually.

Directors have been spending a lot of their time on risk management and adapting to constantly changing Covid requirements over the last twelve months. Respondents to our recent survey noted that because of this they have struggled to focus on strategic planning side of governance which is high in importance on their list of priorities.

Factor in additional responsibilities such as new technologies, IT security risks, climate change and escalating stakeholder demands and the role remit continues to grow.
(This is) a time of heightened director accountability and increasing personal liability, it’s a difficult time for Boards in New Zealand.

Read more: Always on duty – The Future Board. Institute of Directors & MinterEllisonRuddWatts. 


For thirty years we have seen advances in gender quality, technology and work-smart strategies in Boards throughout New Zealand. Members are far more diverse; they bring a variety of skills to the organisation; and are now held accountable for their actions. The past thirty years of Directors Fees reporting has certainly provided some interesting data however Strategic Pay are anticipating significant and exciting changes in the next thirty years. Let’s aim for greater equality, diversity and pay parity at Board level in future!

Download a free overview of Strategic Pay’s 2022 Directors’ Fees report here.

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