Bias against women accounts for 80 per cent of gender pay gap - research

Women's Minister Paula Bennett has released new evidence that the gender pay gap is alive and well.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Women's Minister Paula Bennett has released new evidence that the gender pay gap is alive and well.

The gender pay gap very much exists in New Zealand, and the cause of it is mostly down to bias, perception and attitude, according to new research.

It's the first empirical evidence since 2003, showing that inequality in pay – which was weighted in favour of men – could not be explained by differences in education, occupation and industry, or part-time work.

The pay gap had remained static at about 12 per cent for a decade, but those factors only accounted for 20 per cent of it.

Aged care worker Kristine Bartlett fronted the successful court case with E tu Union, over low wages for women worker.
CRAIG SIMCOX/FAIRFAX NZ

Aged care worker Kristine Bartlett fronted the successful court case with E tu Union, over low wages for women worker.

Researchers found 80 per cent of wage inequality was caused by differences in behaviour between men and women, as well as either conscious or unconscious bias, that negatively affected women's opportunities for recruitment and wage advancement.

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Women were more qualified than men in a range of fields, which should have narrowed the pay gap but hadn't. Women's qualifications were often not reflected in their earnings.

Differences in behaviour – particularly a more aggressive negotiating style in men – could account for some of the differences in pay. But so could a difference in the way employers treated women when they decided to negotiate.

The study was gleaned from the earnings information of more than 13,500 individuals. It was limited to the working age population (16-64), and excluded the self-employed, which left a total sample of 13,737 – 6834 males and 6903 females.

The research was carried out by Gail Pacheco, Chao Li and Bill Cochrane, across the New Zealand Work Research Institute, Auckland University of Technology and the University of Waikato. It was commissioned by the Ministry for Women.

Minister for Women Paula Bennett said released the study on Tuesday, said the findings were "disappointing", but heralded a "call to arms".

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Women had become more educated, she said.

"Fewer girls than boys leave school, without any qualification. A total of 50.7 per cent, of school leavers with NCEA level 2, or above, are girls. Sixty per cent of people who gain tertiary certificates and diplomas are women, and 60 per cent of people who gain bachelors and above are women.

"But despite all of that, up to 84 per cent of the reason for the pay gap is described as 'unexplained factors' – that means it's bias against women, both conscious and unconscious," Bennett told a room of top executives in recruitment and employment.

She said most employers did not set out to create a pay gap, but it was up to them to address it, rather than implementing legislative changes.

"They want to treat staff fairly. It would be great to see employers look at doing a gender pay audit. I'd also encourage them to look at whether women are being promoted into positions they deserve, implement solutions including rigorous recruitment processes, and clear career progression criteria."

But Green Party women's spokeswoman Jan Logie said a law change was what's needed.

"My next members' bill, to be introduced in the ballot tomorrow, will see gender pay transparency indexes published. If Paula Bennett is serious about wanting more companies to pay women more, then she can support my bill immediately."For her to say she agrees with research is one thing, but women in New Zealand need the Government to take action. This is just more hot air from a Government that specialises in paying lip service to voters," Logie said.

Human Resources Institute chief executive Chris Till said the research was not surprising.

"I think the clue is in the phrase unconscious bias – once you become conscious of it, then you can actually start to do something about it.

"I think gender pay audits are absolutely the right thing for organisations to do – how do you know if you've got an issue unless you've actually gone out and gotten the facts," he said.

The release of the research comes just after the release of a Statistics New Zealand report on the "motherhood" penalty", which found 17 per cent gap between what mothers and fathers earn in the workforce.

Parenthood was controlled for in the research released on Tuesday, meaning it fell under the 20 per cent category.

A study from Massey University, released last week, found female journalists were paid 26 per cent less than their male counterparts.

The Government has set up a working group to address the pay gap between men and women, while also negotiating with unions over pay rates for caregivers.

The working group has delivered a set of criteria and principles on how to deal with claims of pay equity in certain sectors.

It came in the wake of a Court of Appeal decision in the TerraNova case, led by aged care worker Kristine Bartlett and E Tu Union. It found that women in predominantly female workforces could make a claim for pay equity under the Equal Pay Act.

Among the recommendations agreed upon by the Government, included one to compare roles between males and females, as part of the assessment to discover whether gender-based pay discrimination was at play.

 - Stuff

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