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The women who shape New Zealand: Dame Jenny Shipley

Iconic and influential Kiwi woman Dame Jenny Shipley shares her inspirations, triumphs and failures, and reveals what it took to become who she is.

By Morgan Johnston

Dame Jenny Shipley
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Businesswoman & former prime minister*

The first woman to hold the office of New Zealand prime minister and the only woman to lead the National Party, Dame Jenny is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders. Since leaving politics in 2002 she has become an influential business leader, heading the board of the China Construction Bank and holding numerous board positions for companies such as Genesis Energy and Mainzeal. She is patron of Basketball New Zealand and the Heart Foundation, and has founded a trust to support schools in Namibia.

Who is the New Zealand woman who has most shaped our nation? Kate Sheppard, for convincing the male leaders of her time that women were of equal value and must have equal rights under the law. Her story has helped many women consider new possibilities and has helped shape our nation.

Who is the New Zealand woman who has most shaped politics/business? Ruth Richardson, for bringing in the fiscal responsibility legislation that now allows New Zealanders to know what is really going on in terms of our nation’s finances and whether we are living within our means. History will prove that Ruth’s contribution will have been defining for us as a nation.

Who is/was the biggest mentor in your life?
My husband Burton has been a great mentor and champion as he has constantly encouraged me to believe in myself, to trust my judgment and to do what I believe is right. He has encouraged me to feel worthy as a mother, lover, business leader and prime minster.

What is the best advice you have been given? Dare to dream of the possibilities rather than be constrained by “convention”, and to lead, not follow!

Complete the sentence: New Zealand women are... magnificent!

What do you wish you had known at age 20? That time slips by so fast. If I had the chance again I would go faster and further and encourage others to do so also.

What/who is your greatest inspiration now? My children and grandchildren, in terms of encouraging them to lead and influence. In what time I have left, I want to make a difference and to keep encouraging people to lead.

What has been your greatest triumph and most difficult failure?
I don’t do failure. I am a builder, not a wrecker. Every time I make a difference by my actions, or can encourage others to make a difference, is a triumph.

If you could change one thing about New Zealand… it would be to stop the destructive approach taken by so many in the media. They are there to inform, not impose their opinions on us all. There are so many good people and good things going on and I despair at the salacious headlines that greet us each day, which claim to be news. As New Zealanders, I want us to claim back the media space so it reflects who we are as a people.

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