Gender pay gaps

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
Last week's International Women's Day-timed announcements about gender pay gap differences in New Zealand should have been sobering stuff for all, not just women.

A report commissioned by the Ministry for Women found women get paid 12.7% less than men, based on 2015 income statistics. Worryingly, not much has changed in more than 10 years - in 2006, the gap was 12.1%. The main thing that has changed is women are now on average more highly qualified than men, at almost all educational levels.

That the suspicions of many women have now been proven with hard data is disappointing in a country as progressive and liberal as New Zealand. Few men in New Zealand would consider themselves sexist. But the report almost identified as much, putting about 80% of the pay gap down to ``unexplained'', harder-to-measure factors, such as conscious and unconscious bias. While discrimination is against the law, bias is harder to detect, and can be smaller, more subtle stuff that can indeed be unconscious: whose opinions are sought, listened to and respected; who gets shoulder-tapped for new roles; who gets invited to informal, out-of-work gatherings; what title staff members are given.

In the past, gender pay gaps were easier to explain, due to factors such as education, the occupations and industries that men and women worked in, or the fact that women were more likely to work part-time. But if those factors now only explain about 20% of the pay gap, action needs to be taken and attitudes re-examined. No workplace sets out to create a pay gap, but they are clearly creeping in. The Ministry for Women report said the pay gap was ``clear evidence of a glass ceiling effect'', a phrase that will make many eyes roll. But since when did equal rights and feminism become dirty words?

Prime Minister Bill English may have recently mystifyingly claimed he didn't ``quite know'' what feminism was, but it is easy to look up: the Collins Dictionary reminds that ``feminism is the belief and aim that women should have the same rights, power, and opportunities as men''. It is a straightforward concept that should not be a mystery to anyone.

In her first major speech as Minister of Women, Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett last week told the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand her response to questions she sometimes received about whether there is a ministry for men. ``My answer is simple. When we have closed the gender pay gap and women aren't predominantly the victims of domestic and sexual violence I will look to close down the Ministry for Women.'' In a television interview, she said don't pay a woman what you think you will get away with, nor what you think she will accept. ``Just pay her what she's worth.''

Nationally, recommendations by the Government's Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles have been accepted, and amendments to the Equal Pay Act and Employment Relations Act proposed, making it easier for women to file pay equity claims with their employers, rather than having to go through the courts

Closer to home, six Dunedin women - including Dunedin City Council chief executive Sue Bidrose and Allied Press editorial executive Helen Speirs - are at present part of a 12-strong national delegation attending the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. How will the actions and attitudes of Otago men and women compare to those on the international stage? Are our employers as fair and enlightened as they might think, or would analysis of our pay rates and progress make some squirm?

The Ministry for Women's pay gap report said solutions to New Zealand's pay disparities would be slow and complex, but Minister Bennett came up with something to set the ball rolling, challenging workplaces to conduct a gender pay gap audit and publish the findings, as the public service sector was recently required to do. How would your workplace fare?


Gender pay gap is a myth.

Women are paid the same as men. In fact they are sometimes paid more. For instance, the continual attempts to bridge the imaginary pay gap has resulted in women-majority jobs becoming relatively better paid than male-majority jobs.

The only reason why women on average are paid less than men is because, on average, they have less seniority and experience. That will always be the case. No amount of sexist social engineering will change that fact.

How do you know these things, John? It is the female opinion that has credibility in questions of inequality. The female experience is first hand. You may be right, it remains to be confirmed, by a working woman.