We need to talk about New Zealand's gender pay gap

Misogyny is still, unfortunately, alive and well in the Land of the Long White Cloud – and there’s some hard data to back that up. But efforts are ongoing to bring us closer to full equality.

The Empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand report released on Tuesday by the Ministry for Women revealed that the main reason women continuing to be paid less than men for the same work was due to “unexplained” factors. Some of those factors: conscious and unconscious bias, and good-old-fashioned (and by that, we mean ridiculously archaic) sexism.

Led by Professor Gail Pacheco from AUT, the report is the first comprehensive update of the factors behind the national gender pay gap since 2003. It also found that while more women were earning university degrees than men and were increasing overall levels of education, it was not shrinking the pay gap. As the report ominously concluded: “There is clear evidence pointing to a glass ceiling effect in NZ.”


A February 28 report from Statistics New Zealand isn’t much better. The estimated pay gap between mothers and fathers in New Zealand is 17 percent – meaning mothers make almost $5 an hour less than men on average ($23.40 an hour for mothers, versus $28.30 for fathers). “The difference between the 17 percent gap in what mothers and fathers earn, and the five percent pay gap between men and women without children, is significant,” Insights manager Stephen Oakley said.

The negative pay consequences for women with children is widely known as the ‘motherhood penalty’ – and this doesn’t even include the difficulties faced when women have to take time off from work to have a child.

Participants at the Women's March in Auckland on January 21.

In the tech and business world, tales of sexism and misogyny are all-too-common (as the recent revelations about a deeply ingrained culture of misogyny at Uber reveal). According to global technology association ISACA’s “The Future Tech Workforce: Breaking Gender Barriers” report, some of the top barriers experienced by women in tech are a lack of mentors, lack of female role models in the field, gender bias in the workplace, unequal growth opportunities compared to men, and unequal pay for the same skills.

“Women should be encouraged to be confident and persistent in pursuit of their technology careers, and a mentor in the field – whether male or female – can be the most effective person to make that case,” said Jo Stewart-Rattray, ISACA board director.

Said former ISACA board director Krysten M. McCabe: “The first step to encouraging more women to pursue a career in technology is educating current technology leaders that gender diversity in the workforce is valuable and important. One of the things that I have noticed through my interactions with leaders in the male-dominated technology field is that these leaders believe their teams perform as successfully with or without females as a part of them. That is incorrect thinking.”

And let’s not forget bias at the very top levels of leadership: when Chorus named Telstra executive Kate McKenzie as its new CEO in late December, it was groundbreaking because there were no other women in charge of an NZX-listed company. Likewise, we don’t need to say much about the chilling effect the election of well-known misogynist Donald Trump has had on basically everyone not a cisgender white male who has a lot of money.

We know firsthand bias can be unconscious. Confession: even we at Idealog have been taken to task. For our 10th anniversary issue, our cover didn't have the gender balance it should have – which led to PledgeMe CEO Anna Guenther and GoodSense managing director Kath Dewar to crowdsource a list of inspiring New Zealand businesswomen available for media to interview. Nine hours after Guenther and Dewar launched the list, it had almost 350 names.

Yet things are being done to change things for the better, to be aware of biases and the need to actually treat people equally. More and more people are getting behind the (basic) idea that women should be paid and treated equally as men (and businesses are noticing this, too, as StopPress has noted). Today in Aotearoa, entire media outlets like The Villainesse are dedicated to promoting equality.

Participants at the Women's March in Auckland on January 21.

In the business space, Lightning Lab ran Lightning Lab XX last year, New Zealand’s first female-founder focused accelerator programme. My Food Bag co-founder and former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung has also launched new venture capital fund, which aims to raise capital from women, for women entrepreneurs. The fund will make it easier for women entrepreneurs to get funding – especially important since more than 97 percent of current venture capital funding goes to men. As Gattung said in the Herald: “There are already one or two smaller venture capital funds or groups of women in New Zealand but this is on a much greater scale. And it’s not just wealthy women who have big lumps of money to put in, it’s open to anyone who has $1,000.”

  • Check out an earlier interview with Theresa Gattung:

And that’s not all. A monthly event launched nationwide on Tuesday will also help arm women with tools and support to succeed in business. The first #CommunityTuesday was launched to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The initiative is being launched by the New Zealand Women’s Entrepreneur Network. Founder Rachel Lewis said women in business need more support than what they’re currently getting. “When women succeed in business, society succeeds,” Lewis explained. “But right now women are facing more roadblocks than men, so we’re here to address that and give them the confidence they need to succeed in their ventures.”

New Zealand Women's Entrepreneur Network founder Rachel Lewis.

Lewis founded KiwiOz Nannies 15 years ago as a 22-year-old living in London. The company now employs 10 London-based staff and has facilitated thousands of nanny placements. Lewis said the common barriers faced by all entrepreneurs – such as lack of money or funding, training, knowledge, and peer support – are worse for women. “But the biggest challenge of all, especially for women, is a lack of confidence,” she explained. “Men are generally better at faking it until they make it and are therefore more likely to get loans or funding. Women are less prepared to throw themselves into things they don’t feel fully qualified in doing.”

This year, the International Women’s Day’s theme is “Be Bold For Change.” It’s the same mindset Lewis said women need to take going into business. #CommunityTuesday will bring women around the country together once a month to escape the isolation of self-employment and help them build strong personal and professional relationships. “Women are typically less competitive than men and we should use that trait to our advantage to collaborate and help build each other up.”

Each event will be focused around one topic spanning all things business – from social media marketing to productivity – and will be an opportunity to bounce ideas with other women. Eventually, Lewis aims to make the Women’s Entrepreneur Network the biggest and most useful network for women in business: something not only women, but all society, should get excited about.

An Ernst & Young report identified that women have a larger positive social impact than men do when they succeed in business, as they are more likely to spend their incomes on those close to them, rather than on themselves as men do. “That’s why we all need to be supporting entrepreneurial women,” Lewis said. “They’re a currently under-tapped resource which can help our economy and communities grow strong.”


Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women Paula Bennett has also spoken out. In a speech on Tuesday at the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand about the wage gap report, she let her opinions be known.

“It is simply unacceptable that women who are as productive and contribute so significantly to business and the economy are paid less than men,” she said. “I’m here to tell you it’s no longer acceptable to keep ignoring this issue. We need to consciously work together to put this right.”