Gender pay gap still there: so what are we doing about it?

Progress in achieving equal pay for men and women is slow, despite years of campaigning, writes Tao Lin.

Winners from last year's YWCA Equal Pay Awards, which recognises businesses that have gone above and beyond to address ...
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Winners from last year's YWCA Equal Pay Awards, which recognises businesses that have gone above and beyond to address equal pay issues in their organisations.

More than 40 years since the Equal Pay Act passed into law, there's still a lot fo work to do to ensure men and women receive the same pay for the same work. 

Some experts estimate female senior executives are paid up to $8000 per year less on average than their male equivalents doing the same kind of job. 

Yet there have been plenty of pay equity initiatives over the years: the Human Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, the landmark court case involving Kristine Bartlett and aged care provider Terranova Homes and Care.

Coca Cola Amatil employees Shailaja Shah & Robby Vasquez. The company has aggressively tackled the issue of gender pay ...
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Coca Cola Amatil employees Shailaja Shah & Robby Vasquez. The company has aggressively tackled the issue of gender pay equality over the past five years with positive results.

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And there appears to have been progress. Women in this country are more likely to be economically independent today than at any other time in the last 30 years, according to a review by women's organisation YWCA Auckland. 

Despite this, the gender pay gap still exists - a fact that goes neither unnoticed nor entirely unaddressed.

NZ Law Society executive director Christine Grice.
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NZ Law Society executive director Christine Grice.

UNDERSTANDING THE GAP

According to the last Quarterly Employment Survey, released in August for June data, the gender pay gap has grown 7 per cent in the last year and the unemployment rate for women rose 0.4 percentage points to 6.7 per cent, the highest rate since December 2013.

The number of women employed full-time fell 0.6 per cent but the number of women in part-time employment grew 1.7 per cent from March 2015.

Statistics New Zealand data shows the gender pay gap was 9.9 percent in 2014 - meaning men earn roughly 10 per cent more than women for an hour's work - and has generally been decreasing since 1998.

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YWCA Auckland chief executive Monica Briggs said progress on closing that gap has been stubborn over the past decade, which was due to a number of factors.

There was a lack of awareness about the problem and how to solve it, a lack of flexible workplaces and unconscious bias and stereotypes about how women should act and how their behaviour was interpreted.

There were also legacy issues with more women now entering traditionally male-dominated industries, a greater reluctance among women to negotiate pay and the fact that women make up almost three-quarters of all part-time workers, who earn less than full-timers when looking at median hourly earnings.

Briggs said there were a few key things required to get the momentum going again: "Raise awareness, create a sense of urgency, get people to look at their data and information to get a really honest appraisal, seek advice and be transparent."

YWCA Auckland runs a four-year emerging leadership programme to give young women better lifelong opportunities and it also started its YWCA Equal Pay Awards last year, in light of the continuing gender pay gap, to encourage businesses making equal pay efforts to step forward and be acknowledged.

Entries to this year's awards are now open and close on September 11.

A report by PwC this year showed female millennials were more highly educated and becoming an increasingly large part of the talent pool. They were more confident than any female generation before and considered career progression to be the most attractive employer trait. 

Briggs said smart employers recognised and capitalised on this.

"Not only is equal pay the right and fair thing to do, it's the economically savvy thing to do," Briggs said.

"Organisations that are tackling this understand there is a return for them and their bottom line."

CLOSING THE GAP

Ever since Coca-Cola Amatil listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, it has been required to regularly report on diversity factors including gender pay equality. From those reports, they could see the problem was big enough to require action.

General manager of human resources Martin King said the company implemented strategies like transparent pay structures, a strong focus on female talent development, flexible work hours and good support during parental leave.

Their efforts have brought the organisation's total pay gap down from 9 per cent to 3 percent over the past five years and they have a 98 per cent return rate among parental leavers, King said.

"Ultimately, equal pay is the right thing to do as a responsible member of the economy and the community. Paying males and females different rates for the same job makes no sense," he said.

Making those changes required a range of "initiatives, strategies, policies and practices" but a crucial element was getting senior executive commitment. Once there was that commitment, it was a matter of keeping the issue visible and aggressively monitoring it as part of ongoing HR and talent processes, King said.

King believed the bias was unconscious and compounded by social issues experienced by women in terms of raising a family and the stereotype of women being less willing to negotiate pay.

"I don't think there are male managers sitting in large corporations saying, 'I'm purposefully going to pay females less than males'," he said.

Just because it was unintentional, did not mean the bias was right and it was something King believed all organisations needed to deal with in order to move forward.

"Address it now or you will become less relevant for New Zealanders and great talent. Great talent will go to organisations who truly embrace diversity," he said.

SUPPORTING FEMALE TALENT

Executive director of the New Zealand Law Society Christine Grice remembered being one of only a few female lawyers when she started practising in the early 1980s.

Now, 61 per cent of new lawyers are female, but that dwindles in more senior positions, contributing to more male lawyers being paid higher salaries.

Grice said there were equal numbers of male and female lawyers in the $100,000 to $150,000 pay bracket but above $150,000, there was only 15 per cent of the country's female lawyers being paid that amount compared to 41 per cent of males.

However, in the $70,000 to $100,000 region, 21 per cent were female lawyers and 16 per cent male.

Grice said more law firms were recognising this lack of senior female talent and offered more flexible work hours, ensured women did not miss out on promotions and made sure female lawyers were given their share of good clients.

"In law firms it's all about client relationships. If the women in a firm have to rush off at 5pm to pick the kids up they're not going to be able to do the networking that the firm has arranged with the big clients," Grice said.

"They're recognising this is a business issue because we're losing so much talent and we need to make sure those pipelines, the people who will be at the top of the profession in 10, 20, 30 years are the best they can be."

 - Stuff

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