Alison Mau: My electrician has faced attacks for giving women a discount – but handled them like a boss
OPINION: My electrician, Brad Kul, likes a chat. He'll be up on the ladder, slicing and threading and connecting (you can tell I have no idea what he's actually doing) and we'll be chatting about the state of New Zealand. All Brad's clients hang with him for a chat – that's the way he likes it.
We seem to always need him in the school holidays, so one of his strapping teenaged sons usually comes with, as apprentice. They are lovely, curious, socially engaged boys. Brad and Lauren were young loves and are now married 17 years. Their great parenting shines through in every interaction.
I met Brad on Twitter. I had no idea what he did early on, although his social media feeds make it plain he likes building things, punishingly long bike rides, and goats. (I haven't really talked to him about that last one, must make a mental note to do that next time).
Once I worked it out I asked him to take me on as a client, which happily, he agreed to do. He's a great electrician. But it was only when he sent me his first bill that I twigged what kind of man he is. There it was at the bottom of the page.
* Bias against women accounts for 80 per cent of gender pay gap - research
* Gender pay gap: New Zealand women share stories of bias at work
* New Zealand companies trying to tackle the gender pay gap
-12% to offset NZ gender pay gap: -$77.13
Brad quietly decided a few months back to offer the discount to his women clients. He has no interest in fame, but when the latest research on the gender pay gap was released this week, he tweeted to his 2000 or so followers: Invoice to a female client. It feels like a natural thing to do, tradesman like, see a problem and do what you can to fix it.
I know for a fact he hesitated before even doing that, but he knew he had something to say about inequality. It's really blown up since then. Brad's been fielding media requests from all over – he gave a comment to a couple of news sites and did a radio interview, then turned down the rest, including pleas from TV producers. He's not trying to get more customers; he's owned the business for 14 years and is quite happy, thank you.
Nevertheless, as is the nature of virality these days, Brad has ended up on the front page of the Daily Mail website. Those plonkers headlined it "charging men 12 per cent MORE" which is not true (male clients are charged going rate) and misses the point.
Brad is now a wee bit overwhelmed by how the past couple of days have panned out.
"I don't understand the huge amount of support (I've had) when I haven't really done anything," he told me.
"Maybe this just means I don't understand how institutionalised sexism is. As for the negative comments, my mates and I have always joked about the fragile male ego, but to see how delicate and triggered some of these men are, is ridiculous. I bet it's the same people who say 'PC gone mad!'"
There have been plenty of negative comments from people wanting to pick holes in his business tikanga, all of which Brad has handled like a boss, and with only minimal swearing. He knows what his motives remain.
Back to that research, though. Motu Economic and Public Policy researchers released a world first which shows that sexism – not time off for babies, or choosing to work in lower-paid industries or any of the other grasping-at-straws excuses – is to blame for the difference between women and men's pay.
They found no statistical difference in the value men and women added to their workplaces, but that the 12 per cent disadvantage remains. Subsequent to release of the research, updated figures from Statistics New Zealand show the gap narrowed to 9 per cent last year, which is at least a step in the right direction, but, given the figures had not moved for a decade prior, does not indicate any firm trend.
The situation remains unfair, clearly. It triggered a collective eyeroll from so many women who already knew this, to their personal detriment. But it also triggered the usual howls of protest from the flat-earthers.
There are men who do get it.
A dude on Twitter gave me the biggest laugh when he summed it up like this: "Dudes: need more than anecdotes to convince us of the pay gap. Women: Here's the evidence. Dudes: no, we need anecdotes."
Brad gets it. He may have to adjust his discount from 12 per cent to 9 per cent, but I suspect he'll keep offering a discount anyhow.
NOTHING COMES CLOSE TO THE IMPACT OF DIANA'S DEATH
These days the details of the crash in that Paris tunnel in 1997 would have been quickly known, but 20 years ago newsgathering looked very different.
Smartphone video, drone footage, live tweeting of a breaking story was still decades away.
I was never a diehard Diana fan; the "fairytale" marriage didn't capture me as it did many teenaged girls, and after that I saw her as other things – courageous and effective in her public work, but often forlorn, lonely, and certainly not free.
But like most who were watching, the night she died is burned into my mind forever.
For hours all we had was a picture of the tunnel entrance, parked up on CNN. In the newsroom we watched the Reuters and AP wires, and every hour we did news updates; Diana has a broken arm, she's being treated in hospital.
Then suddenly, at 4pm, a press conference outside the Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital, and the announcement that the princess had died. For a long moment everyone in the newsroom was silent, then the studio director, an Irishman legendary for his skills and his swearing, looked at me and growled: "Run."
I was pregnant, so it was more of a breathless waddle down the long corridor to the studio, and a moment to clip on the mic. "We're live. Speak!" said the Irishman.
On-air, for a minute or so, I gabbled out all the details I could remember of the news conference. I hope it made sense, because those were the first details many New Zealanders will have heard.
This week people on social media have related to me their memories of where they were (watching sport mainly) when we broke into programming. The sense of disbelief was palpable, the control room at TVNZ utterly silent afterwards. When the 6 o'clock bulletin was over I realised I hadn't changed my white jacket (chosen much earlier in the day) for a black one, and the viewers were not happy about this show of disrespect.
I covered a mass shooting for a newspaper at the age of 19; since then several wars, famine, bombings and massacres but strangely, nothing will ever match the impact of August 31, 1997.
The death of Diana and the News of the World phone-hacking scandal have reined in the worst excesses of the paparazzi. But even more importantly, they have reminded all journalists to think carefully about how we report stories. In our pursuit of important stories in the public interest, we must never forget that we are human beings first.
Today, everyone has a smartphone camera, everyone has a Twitter account, everyone is a journalist. So all of us need to remember human decency.
* Ali Mau is the host of RadioLIVE Drive, 3-6pm weekdays.
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- Sunday Star Times