Current research in social sciences and public policy

This page outlines some of the research being undertaken by academic staff in the AUT School of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

On this page:

Urgent action to address woeful lack of board diversity

The Government, fund managers and NZX Ltd need to take urgent action to address stalled progress towards diversity on New Zealand company boards, say Professor Judy McGregor, Economist Shamubeel Eaqub and Barrister Catriona MacLennan.

The trio released the  New Zealand Census of Women on Boards 2018, showing that only 24.1% of board members of New Zealand’s top 100 NZX companies by market capitalisation are female.

The survey in 2017 recorded 22.1% female board members, and 20.1% in 2016.

“It is particularly shameful that NZX, which should be setting an example, has only one woman on its board of seven and that the board chair and chief executive are both male,” said Professor McGregor, Mr Eaqub and Ms MacLennan.

Professor McGregor has done the survey six times since 2008 and said she feared she would not in her lifetime see 50% women on boards.

“Progress is glacial. 20 companies in the Top 100 still have no women on their boards. That is unacceptable in terms of business reputation, market responsiveness, consumer confidence and gender equality.”

Ms MacLennan said the picture was equally woeful for ethnic diversity. She commended Champions for Change for pledging to make ethnic diversity reporting a priority in 2019.

“In 2018, we do not even have accurate statistics about the ethnic makeup of company boards because we don’t care enough to produce them. However, what is plainly apparent is that Māori, Pasifika and migrant faces are almost absent from our top company boards.”

Mr Eaqub, who is a director of KiwiSaver manager Simplicity, said fund managers needed to promote diversity on boards and in management. Simplicity worked to use its voice to help transform the business sector into a more diverse place and other fund managers should follow suit.

Professor McGregor, Mr Eaqub and Ms MacLennan called for the following action –

  • NZX to set an example for other companies by immediately moving to 50% female board members on its own board, prioritising future appointments of female chairs and chief executives, and acting to implement ethnic diversity;
  • The NZX Top 100 companies set targets of 50% women on boards within 12 months;
  • The Prime Minister and her Business Advisory Council place on the agenda of their first meeting on 8 November 2018 in Auckland immediate action to implement ethnic and gender diversity on boards;
  • New Zealand follow the Australian Stock Exchange’s example of quotas for women on boards, with NZX monitoring implementation;
  • Fund managers act to implement diversity on boards and in management;
  • The Ministry for Women open its Nominations Service to the private sector. The Nominations Service has been a factor in public sector boards reaching 45.7% women.

Download the report

One quarter of top 100 NZ companies still lack women on their boards

Despite decades of encouragement from government, governance groups, the business sector and women’s groups, 25% of New Zealand’s top companies still have no women on their boards, a new report from AUT has found.

The Census report shows that women have now increased to 22.17 per cent of the directorships of the top 100 NZX companies by market capitalisation in April 2017, up from 20% in 2016 and 14.75% in 2012. Despite slightly faster progress in women’s representation in corporate governance more recently, it will still take another 13 years until 2030 to close the gender gap. The report names companies whose boards remain men only but commends those that have appointed female board members and provides examples of good practice among NZX100 companies.

Report author Judy McGregor says its time re-assess the voluntary approach towards achieving gender balance in the boardroom and goes on to advocate direct action.

Read the report here

Digital media in children's and adolescents' lives

Children and adolescents are increasingly exposed to various forms of digital media. Ironically, in this 'information age', we actually understand very little about how the emergence, and rapid growth, of digital media impacts on development and wellbeing.

Dr Erik Landhuis and Professor Charles Crothers together with Associate Professors Erica Hinckson and Dr Wendy Wrapson from the Centre for Child Health Research, NIPHMHR, Health and Environmental Sciences, are exploring digital media use by New Zealand children and adolescents, and investigating the health and social consequences of digital media use by this population.

Antarctica, governance and cryopolitics

Jane Verbitsky's current research focuses on Antarctic governance. Because of the lack of a sovereign government in Antarctica, the continent is governed through a unique, multilateral condominium governance system known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).

Jane has a particular interest in the key ATS decision-making group, the twenty eight Consultative Parties, and the tourism policy framework they have created in the 'white continent'.

Tourism in Antarctica has increased significantly since the 1980s, but she has argued that ATS tourism initiatives have not kept pace with real-time changes.

She says that the Consultative Parties need to urgently address and rectify this situation (preferably through a dedicated Tourism Convention) in order to maintain their legitimacy as the self-designated stewards of Antarctica.

Jane's Antarctic research also lies in cosmopolitan democracy and environmental justice, and how these ideas relate to the composition of the ATS decision-making group and to Antarctica's role and status in the international system.

She says there are compelling, unanswered questions around these cryopolitical issues — like whether Antarctica is an international commons, a global commons, or a Common Heritage of Mankind? And is the ATS the most appropriate governance system for the continent, or should Antarctic governance be overseen by the United Nations as the most globally representative inter-governmental organisation?

Science Diplomacy

Dr Jane Verbitsky is working on science diplomacy projects that consider the potential utility and efficacy of this specialist form of public diplomacy in the contexts of international relations (the NZ-ASEAN relationship) and conflict resolution (the NZ-Fiji relationship).

Science diplomacy has been practiced by states for decades (albeit often under differing nomenclature), but has recently received academic attention internationally as a diplomatic tool with particular relevance and application in the current era of global politics.

Scholars have suggested that the end of the Cold War and bipolarity has ushered in a new period in international relations (the New World Order) that is particularly suited to the projection of soft power, and cultivation of cooperative bilateral and multilateral relations between states. Scholars have also noted the critical place of science and technology in dealing with common global issues (such as climate change, alleviation of disease through 'poverty vaccines', oceans pollution, and decommissioning of nuclear weapons) and, thus, the salience of science and technology in contemporary statecraft.

Fighting Saved My Life: Narratives of Female Fighters on Violence and Femininity

With this study Antje Deckert seeks to approach violence in a more holistic way than criminological research traditionally does. Instead of focusing on illegal violence only or women as the victims of violence, this study looks at why women engage in legal violent behaviour, i.e. combat sports like Muay Thai, and relates the commitment to the sport to past violence experiences in childhood and intimate partner relationships. The study is grounded in a narrative understanding of self-making, meaning that individuals form their identities through narrative.

State and Society in Greece, Ireland and Portugal

Dr Kate Nicholls completed a book in 2015 titled "Mediating Policy: Greece, Ireland and Portugal Before the Eurozone Crisis".

This project looks at the extent to which these three countries adjusted their social and economic development strategies in order to meet the labour market policy challenges associated with the requirements of 'knowledge based' economic growth, during the 1990s and early 2000s.

'Sexing' Indonesia

Associate Professor Sharyn Graham Davies says sexualities of Indonesian societies are multifarious, complex and constantly changing. Dominant ideals of female and male sexuality, and heteronormativity, are propagated by state, cultural and religious institutions whilst they are also continuously contested by popular culture and the everyday sexualities of Indonesians.

Indonesian sexualities are negotiated in a dynamic era paradoxically characterised by conservatism, liberalism and the accommodation of diversity. Public and private sexualities frequently diverge and the performance of multiple sexualities is increasingly evident.

Men have sex with men while maintaining relationships with their wives and other female lovers. Lesbian sex workers service predominantly male clients. Gay Christian groups meet to discuss their spirituality and their sexuality. School girls perform chastity while pursuing backstreet sexual liaisons.

The vast majority of Indonesians still marry in heterosexual unions, but little is known or enquired about their sexualities and how they conform with or contest state defined sexual roles and identities.

Calls for sexual modesty abound in public dialogue, and yet the consumption of sexual stories and scandal is a popular entertainment choice purveyed through mass media and a social fascination with celebrity sexualities and lifestyles. Indonesia’s reformation era (era reformasi) has expanded spaces for explicit debates of sexuality.

Politics in Hard Times: The Impact of the Eurozone Crisis

Dr Kate Nicholls along with Debrin Foxcroft of the University of Waikato are assessing the impact of the post-2009 Eurozone Crisis on the "quality of democracy" in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. It develops an analytical framework that outlines and operationalises several dimensions of democratic quality and presents some tentative conclusions not only about the political impact of the economic crisis in each country investigated, but also about why the quality of democracy in some countries has suffered more than others as a result of the crisis.

Attitude Strength, Persuasion, and the Prediction of Behaviour

Much of the current research Dr Jay Wood is conducting involves the attitudes and opinions that people hold about almost any product, person, or idea that we can think of.

He is looking at what the qualities and properties are that make some attitudes more persistent over time, more resistant to change, and more impactful on our thoughts and behaviours.

He is also researching how the content of persuasive messages affects attitudinal processes, considering when fictional stories are more persuasive than rational arguments, and when the logical structure of an argument matters.

Neo-colonial criminology: decolonising research methods and academic discourse

This research, undertaken by Antje Deckert, seeks to determine quantitatively how prevalent the employment of 'silencing research methods' and the use of 'othering discourse' is in contemporary criminology. It is underpinned by a theoretical framework that connects discourse and power and views scholarly research as a distinctive means of exercising social control.

Public trust in the police and reforms to the Policing Act 2008

Dr John Buttle is focusing his research on a number of distinct areas in criminology via collaborations with colleagues.

He is investigating the effect that controversial incidents have on public trust in the police.

Dr Buttle is involved with a comparative project that examines how independent New Zealand’s police complaints process is after recent reforms. Future research will investigate reforms that resulted from the Policing Act 2008.

Child witnesses in the NZ criminal courts: A comparison of lawyers' and intermediaries' assessments of a child's cross-examination

Dr Kirsten Hanna and Dr Emily Henderson (independent researcher) have conducted successive analyses of court transcripts, which show that the way children are cross-examined in the New Zealand criminal courts is likely to reduce the quality and quantity of children's evidence. Recurring criticisms centre on the language used and the tactics of traditional cross-examination. The purpose of this study is twofold.

The first aim is to explore the differences and similarities between UK-based registered intermediaries' and New Zealand defence counsels' judgements about the appropriateness of the language used in the anonymised transcript of a child's cross-examination.

The second is to probe the legal participants' perceptions of the rationale underlying the tactics employed. The ultimate aim is to contribute to the slowly evolving debate over what might constitute a best-practice cross-examination (namely, one which is fair to both the defendant and the child witness).

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