Gender pay gap: New Zealand women share stories of bias at work

"If you do have something between your legs you're going to get a lot further."

"If you do have something between your legs you're going to get a lot further."

OPINION: I once had to do an interview at the beach. I went into the morning editorial meeting first, wearing shorts and a fitted t-shirt. The male photographer, who regularly dressed casually, was wearing similar clothes.

"Why are you dressed like Barbie today?" the male editor asked me, in front of all the staff.

"Sweetie" and "pumpkin" were in regular use to address female journalists. I was just out of journalism school, and less than half his age. What was I going to say? Nothing.

Let's hear it for women

Share your stories, photos and videos.

This is a small story. On its own, what does it prove? 

According to the Ministry for Women's excellent Empirical Evidence of the Gender Pay Gap in New Zealand, released on Tuesday, these small moments add up to a lot.

Most of this country's 12 per cent gender pay gap, actually.

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The groundbreaking research, conducted by Auckland University of Technology, says 80 per cent of the pay gap can be attributed to "unexplained" factors like bias, perception and attitude towards women.

"These are the harder to measure factors, like conscious and unconscious bias – impacting negatively on women's recruitment and pay advancement – and differences in men's and women's choices and behaviours."

Sexism. This is what's holding us back.

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But don't just take my word for it. How are New Zealand women experiencing this?

Leonie, works in payroll and HR

I work in an office with five women and one male and what the male says goes, even though the manager is a female. I have worked in public and private organisations and everywhere I've worked people will always look to the males in the office for the definitive word, the final say.

What the men said was always worth 10 times what I said. I don't know if it's because they're more authoritative.

I feel disadvantaged because I am a female. If I went against a male for a promotion, I am sure I wouldn't get it because he's a male.

A new team leader came to us and in his first few days called me "sugar titties." He was basically saying: "I can't take you seriously because you're a girl and wear high heels. Your job is just to sit there and look pretty." To be honest I was so embarrassed all I could do was laugh.

I tell my daughter to be tough but still be a lady, if that makes sense. If you're a male you would be called assertive, but if you're a female you're considered bolshie.

I say to her: "Don't let yourself get pushed around because you're a female, but I have to tell you honey, sorry, in all reality you will be."

I've seen across the board how a lot of industries work. I'm sorry, if you do have something between your legs you're going to get a lot further.

Claire, works in the shipping industry

Chauvinism and disrespect is so prominent. I had someone call me Princess Claire constantly in the workplace even though I wanted to be treated like an equal. It was so patronising.

Miranda, works at a district council 

When I started in my industry I was the only female to have ever worked there. The guys were horrible to start with, some days I would go home crying. I had to work twice as hard (physically) to try prove myself and do the dangerous jobs.

We had to unload pallets of chemicals, and each bag weighed 25kg. The guys moaned I would slow them down so to prove I was just as good as them I would carry 2 bags (50kg) at a time, up three flights of stairs.

They shut me in an underground manhole one day to try scare me off the job. They didn't like me because I was Maori and a woman. We all get along well now, but the first three years was hard.

Adrienne, company director

When [my male co-director] and I first started our company, I would lead a presentation and the men would ask my male business partner questions about the presentation as if I wasn't there. Mark and I actually made a pact that he would defer back to me and if they kept doing it he would look at the desk or his notes and not physically look up so they had no other option.

I've been at corporate events where men we know in the industry have introduced Mark to business connections and not introduced me, when I'm standing beside him.

I've left an event because the host did it to me - when Mark went to introduce me, the host talked over him! I was so ropeable I left. Mark used to get invited to golf tournaments for business networking, but not me.

I haven't had pay equity issues though - mainly cause I've always fought for my salary.

Fiona, media professional 

I missed out on an internship in TV once because they wanted a "convincing male." My friend's dad is the chief executive of a major company and he admitted to her that he would never consider hiring a woman between the 25-35 age bracket because he knows they will eventually have babies and mess with job continuity. 

But those in his position could never legally admit it out loud anywhere else.

Hayley, works in communications for an NGO

I regularly get invited to events for the sole purpose of being the 'token' woman. And my boss even tells me outright that's the reason I'm invited. Also, because some of the other important peoples' wives might be there and they might need another woman to talk to. It's so common it's sad.

It's outrageous. I mean, he tries to say it like it's funny and jokey but it's really not.

Megan, former sports journalist

I had the communications director of a national sports organisation consistently ask me why I was still a journalist and hadn't left to get pregnant. He thought it was a joke. I didn't. 

My first game of covering league there was a pack of journalists heading under the stands for the usual press conference - an NRL official singled me and another female out and yelled out: "what are those women doing, are they journalists?".

I have been stopped from going into changing rooms because I was female. Other women sports journalists overseas have fought for that right.

That was nothing to do with my employer but it was my job. The organisations I was dealing with were completely backwards in how they dealt with women.

Ellen, small business owner

I am very quick to assert my expertise and authority and generally find people look at me exactly how I want or better. I spent ages understanding this stuff and having a plan to combat it before it's an issue.

The reason I think it doesn't impact me is I try to keep tabs on freelancer rates and be at the top of the pay grade. My approach is to prep myself so when people ask if I'd accept less, to be very firm. Funnily enough, they respect me more.

Men grow up asking for what they want, we grow up asking for what we think we're absolutely qualified to earn.

Names have been changed.


Statistics New Zealand calculates New Zealand's official gender pay gap as the difference between the median hourly earnings of women and men in full and part-time work.

If there is a lot of men at the top of an organisation and a lot of women at the bottom, a gender pay gap will exist.

Unequal pay is when men and women doing the same work earn different amounts. This is illegal.


Here's what employers can do.

Here's what individual women can do.

Michelle Duff is a weekly contributor to Life & Style.

 - Stuff


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