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Ministry for Women report highlights New Zealand's persistent gender pay gap

The Ministry for Women has released a new report highlighting the gender pay gap between women and men and the need to take action for a more equitable society. But will anybody listen?

Women in Aotearoa today earn, on average, just 88 cents for every dollar a man makes. Even worse, the gap is larger for women of colour (particularly Māori and Pasifika women), women who are immigrants, queer women, and trans women.

And it gets even worse than that: the gender pay gap has been about the same for the past decade, despite increased attention being given to the human rights issue. So why aren’t we doing more to fix it?

There does seem to be at least some impetus for change. The Ministry for Women released its  Closing the gender pay gap: actions for employers report on Thursday. The report, for which the Ministry spoke to 26 large companies about their experiences and what they’re doing to close the gap, outlines things employers can do to ensure women and men are paid equally.

“It’s a daunting task for companies when they get started. It’s not until we can all start talking publicly about this that things will change,” said Minister for Women and Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett to mark the release of the report. “If New Zealand organisations identify and address their gender pay gaps, we can create fairer workplaces and raise incomes for women, families, and communities throughout New Zealand. It’s good for business too, diverse companies are more successful.

“The guide is based on New Zealand and international best practice, and applies to companies regardless of whether they are starting their work on their gender pay gap or have established gender and diversity initiatives.”

The report also highlights the fact that about 80 percent of the gender pay gap is driven by hard-to–measure factors, including conscious and unconscious bias. As the report explicitly states, it’s long past time we come to terms with any biases we might have.

“We know there are a number of factors that impact on an organisation’s leadership and human resources and remuneration policies,” said Bennett. “If we are serious about the gender pay gap, each of these needs to be looked at and changes made.”

So far, Iceland is the only country in the world where private and public companies are required by law to pay women and men equally. While the Ministry’s report does not mention penalties for employers that continue to pay women less, Bennett said more must be done to close the pay gap. “Companies need a plan to close the gender pay gap in New Zealand workplaces,” she said. “This is just the first step and the Ministry will soon release guidance to assist employers on how to measure their gender pay gap.”

The push for closing the gender pay gap also comes amid another positive development in the fight for equality. Earlier this month, Simplicity, the non-profit KiwiSaver provider which owns shares in the top 50 listed companies in New Zealand, wrote to all top 50 CEOs advocating for full diversity in board and senior management within five years.

Simplicity founder Sam Stubbs said diversity can be across gender, ethnicity, age or ability. “It’s not up to us to tell the companies what diversity should mean to them, but it will be obvious when you see photos of the board and management when it’s been achieved.”

Companies have been asked to submit a plan within six months, and fully implement it within five years.

The planning phase complements new NZX requirements for reporting on diversity. A five-year implementation allows diversity to be incorporated into board rotation and management development programmes. “Progress, or lack thereof, will be obvious within a year. Companies embracing diversity will be applauded. If there's no progress, then as a shareholder there are a range of options open for us to take action,” said Stubbs.

The move is long overdue. Stats from the NZX reveal not enough women are serving as directors of Kiwi businesses. Of all the different companies listed on the NZX, a mere 13 percent had female directors. Even worse, the number is actually down from 2016, when 14 percent of companies had female directors.

The numbers are all the more appalling considering that women held 18.8 percent of the board seats on the 2016 Fortune 1000, which lists the 1,000 largest companies in the world. It also is far below that of other industrialised nations like Germany, where about 22 percent of board seats were held by women (according to stats from the Hans Böckler Foundation) prior to a law that went into effect in January requiring companies to ensure a minimum of 30 percent of board seats be held by women.

Even Australia is blowing the Land of the Long White Cloud out of the water when it comes to women on boards. Women held about 23.4 percent of board seats on ASX 200-listed companies in June 2016 – a nearly three-fold increase from 8.3 percent in 2009.

Organisations, academics and entrepreneurs are also taking a stand for diversity. Vodafone earlier this year announced its Vodafone ReConnect programme, designed to attract talented women who have left the workplace for an extended period of time who would like to return to work on a full-time or flexible basis. University of Sydney associate professor Rae Cooper also said that despite decades of talk, women’s careers are still hampered by glass ceilings, glass walls that segregate men and women into gender-determined roles and “sticky floors” that confine women to dead-end jobs. 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.

Check out an earlier interview with Theresa Gattung:

That’s not all that’s being done, either. For Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness livestream – a 24-hour event featuring people from across the globe speaking about the need for equality – Lizzie Marvelly, editor of unabashed feminist outlet The Villainesse, spent much of her talk discussing the gender pay gap, and that there’s only one female CEO of an NZX-listed company (Kate McKenzie of Chorus). Her talk also featured an appearance by Eat My Lunch co-founder Lisa King, who shared her story of being a woman in business and the challenges she’s faced and successes she's had.


Read the full Closing the gender pay gap: actions for employers report here.

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