Paula Bennett: It's 2017. It's time to pay women what they are worth
COMMENT: Closing the gender pay gap is one of my top priorities as Minister.
We know that we won't eliminate the gap overnight.
But it is simply unacceptable that women who are as productive, and contribute so significantly to business and the economy are paid less than men.
Which is why when I released new research on the gender pay gap this week, I was a little disappointed.
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The last time this research was done back in 2003, it identified a range of factors that contributed to 40-80 per cent of the pay gap: Differences in occupation and industry of employment, in the amount of work experience between women and men, and women's qualifications relative to men.
This new report, produced by AUT on behalf of the Ministry for Women, finds those are no longer the biggest factors in why women are paid less than men.
Over the past decade, women have gone away and addressed these factors.
We've become more educated. Fewer girls than boys leave school without any qualification. Some 50.7 per cent of school leavers with NCEA level 2 or above are girls. Sixty per cent of people who gain tertiary certificates, diplomas, bachelors and above are women.
Women are being encouraged into areas like science, technology, engineering and maths. We're participating more in the labour market. We have the fourth highest participation rate in the OECD.
We've starting moving more in male-dominated occupations.
But despite all of that, 80 per cent of the reason for the pay gap is described as "unexplained factors".
That means bias against women, both conscious and unconscious. That means it's the attitudes and assumptions of women in the workplace.
And when you have a workforce of men, particularly in senior roles, then it seems likely you're going to stick with the status quo.
We can do better.
Bill English is a good example of someone striving to do better for women.
When he was Minister of Finance he had to approve board appointments.
He'd receive lists that were mostly, if not entirely, men.
Instead of taking the attitude "that must be all there was out there", that these were the only qualified candidates, he'd send the list back to Treasury and wouldn't consider making appointments until he had women to choose from.
And sure enough – once Treasury was challenged, they always found good women candidates.
He would still always choose the best person for the job. He just insisted on having the best to choose from.
And what do you know, 48 per cent of his board appointments as Finance Minister were women.
Of course, organisations don't set out to create a pay gap. But if we're going to change this, then it starts with all of us and our attitudes.
My challenge to employers is to hire people based on merit, to give women as many opportunities as men and to pay women what they are worth.
It's 2017. It's not about what you can get away with. It's not about what she is willing to accept.
It's about what she is worth.
• Paula Bennett is the Minister for Women.