How New Zealand fares in the fight for equal pay

We’re lauded for be­ing a pro­gres­sive coun­try in many ways – but when it comes to the gen­der pay gap, are we rest­ing on our lau­rels? We meet the women work­ing to achieve pay equal­ity, and find out what we need to do to close the gap

NEXT (New Zealand) - - Contents - BY KYLIE BAI­LEY

Did you know that as New Zealand women we’re paid 16% less to do the same job as our male col­leagues? Re­gard­less of what pro­fes­sion we are in and even though the work we do is just as valu­able?

Just as re­mark­able is that de­spite be­ing the first coun­try in the world to give women the vote and the fact our preg­nant PM is mak­ing in­ter­na­tional head­lines, our ef­forts to close the gen­der pay gap have barely moved for a decade.

The gen­der pay gap in New Zealand sits at 9.4% – slightly smaller than it was 10 years ago. Mean­while, a study pub­lished last year by Motu Eco­nomic and Pub­lic Pol­icy us­ing 10 years of an­nual wage and pro­duc­tiv­ity data from New Zealand found women are be­ing paid less to do the same job as men – 16% less to be ex­act. For Ma¯ori women, it’s 22% less and for Pasi­fika women, 26% less.

That is hap­pen­ing even though you are mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion of equal value to your em­ployer.

Even more in­ter­est­ing is the fact this study also proved sex­ism is most likely the ma­jor driver be­hind the gen­der wage gap. Re­searchers were able to prove that the av­er­age fe­male em­ployee in a pri­vate firm earns 84 cents for ev­ery $1 the av­er­age man gets paid.

To add even more fuel to the fire, a re­port car­ried out by AUT and is­sued by the Min­istry of Women last year show­ing em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence of the gen­der pay gap in New Zealand found that over the past two decades – at al­most all ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment level – fe­males now out­strip their male coun­ter­parts.

So why through­out New Zealand work­places do

women con­tinue to be paid as though they are less valu­able and less qual­i­fied than men, and how on earth can we change these abysmal sta­tis­tics?

There is a glim­mer of hope. Over the course of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, NEXT found ex­am­ples of a slow­but-sure step-change tak­ing place in or­gan­i­sa­tions across the coun­try. Now that step-change

needs to be mag­ni­fied into a move­ment.

Min­is­ter for Women Julie Anne Gen­ter is urg­ing women to take col­lec­tive ac­tion to ac­tively ad­dress the gen­der pay gap within their own or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“It’s about find­ing other women and work­ing to­gether within an or­gan­i­sa­tion to cham­pion change and seek out those male man­agers and lead­ers who can be cham­pi­ons for change,” she tells NEXT.

Cham­pi­oning a cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion is some­thing lawyer and em­ploy­ment ex­pert Jo Copeland has done suc­cess­fully first hand.

Last year she was named In­di­vid­ual Equal Pay Cham­pion at the YWCA Equal Pay Awards be­cause of the work she had done at Simp­son Gri­er­son to move the law firm to a 0% gen­der pay gap in the past three years.

Next to Jo’s desk is pinned what she calls “a $9 note” with Kate Shep­pard on it. The suf­fragette is her icon and the rea­son the note rep­re­sents $9 in­stead of $10 is be­cause that’s how much a woman gets paid for ev­ery $10 a man earns.

She’s taken this me­mento into her new job at Dou­glas Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, not only as a re­minder of the work she did at Simp­son Gri­er­son, but also of the work that needs to be done in New Zealand. “I look at it ev­ery day.”

That mis­sion be­gan al­most 25 years ago when she first came out of uni­ver­sity and started life as a lawyer. “I was read­ing a book pub­lished at the time called With­out Prej­u­dice: Women in the Law by Gill Gat­field. It said it’s a to­tal myth time will change the num­ber of fe­males in law firm part­ner­ships be­cause New Zealand women have made up 50% of law grad­u­ates for the past 20 years, but they make up less than 20% of se­nior law part­ner­ships. That stuck with me my whole ca­reer.”


Mov­ing out of law and into the cor­po­rate world, Jo be­gan work­ing in em­ploy­ment re­la­tions and HR.

Then when she had chil­dren – her daugh­ter is now nine and her son, seven – ev­ery­thing changed. Jo says she de­vel­oped em­pa­thy and a so­cial con­science she never be­fore had. And when she was look­ing to come back into the work­force at a se­nior HR level, she saw an ad for a pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm and it again re­minded her of Gill’s book.

“I won­dered what had changed in the 20 years since I was first ad­mit­ted to the bar. I won­dered how many women were now in part­ner­ship in New Zealand law firms.”

What she dis­cov­ered dis­ap­pointed her. De­spite women out­strip­ping men as law school grad­u­ates, the num­bers re­mained un­changed. From the mo­ment she started at Simp­son Gri­er­son, Jo was de­ter­mined to bring about last­ing change within the com­pany cul­ture of Auck­land’s largest firm.

She felt she was fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of her “stri­dent, strongly fem­i­nist” grand­mother and ral­ly­ing against her fa­ther, who, de­spite be­ing proud of her, would never be de­scribed as a fem­i­nist.

“Hav­ing chil­dren was a very strong mo­ti­va­tion for me, es­pe­cially be­cause I have a daugh­ter and a son. I ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘how am I ever go­ing to ex­plain to her that she’s go­ing to earn less than her brother?’”

The strat­egy Jo em­ployed at Simp­son Gri­er­son was to pub­licly com­mu­ni­cate her vi­sion. Un­der her

‘We cre­ated a cul­ture that was fo­cused on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion’

lead­er­ship, the com­pany en­tered the YWCA’s Equal Pay Awards and be­came the first or­gan­i­sa­tion in New Zealand to ob­tain the Rain­bow Tick for a LGBTTI-friendly work­place.

“I chose the YWCA Equal Pay Awards be­cause it was very trans­par­ent and ex­ter­nally au­dited,” she says. “Part of my strat­egy on lots of things I have done is to say these things pub­licly, which re­ceives pos­i­tive press. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, man­agers then feel a sense of obli­ga­tion to live up to that pro­file and it does change be­hav­iour.”

After the firm won its first award, Jo says pride in their achieve­ments quickly helped close the pay gap.

“I re­alised I was lucky enough to be in a priv­i­leged po­si­tion of power and I did use that. I didn’t ask per­mis­sion, I set the agenda and I went out there and spoke pub­licly about it. I was de­ter­mined that women would not be worse off on their way up the cor­po­rate lad­der,” she says. “We cre­ated a cul­ture that was very fo­cused on di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion.”

Jo also urges other Kiwi women not to for­get the power of shar­ing their in­di­vid­ual sto­ries.

To cel­e­brate In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day last year, she de­cided to raise the pro­file of “the in­cred­i­ble women” through­out the or­gan­i­sa­tion by shar­ing a new story from one woman ev­ery day for two weeks on the in­tranet.

“I wanted women to tell their per­sonal sto­ries of where they’ve come from – we had sto­ries like: ‘my Har­vey We­in­stein mo­ment’; ‘how I over­came racial prej­u­dice’; ‘my sur­vival from breast cancer’; and ‘grow­ing up amongst sniper fire in the Ukraine’. One woman told her story of be­ing a vic­tim of do­mes­tic violence. She was a ju­nior lawyer and a solo mother with two kids. Peo­ple were in tears and as soon as her story was pub­lished, she was show­ered with sup­port. It was won­der­ful to see.

“After that, some­body wrote a do­mes­tic violence pol­icy for the or­gan­i­sa­tion and an­other per­son came to me and of­fered up a spare bed­room at their house for any­one in the or­gan­i­sa­tion who was deal­ing with this is­sue. It never ceases to amaze me what power truth­ful and heart­felt sto­ries can have.”

And the YWCA Awards recog­nise the or­gan­i­sa­tions that are ac­tively do­ing this. Now in their fifth year, the awards recog­nise busi­ness lead­ers who are on the jour­ney to­wards equal pay. Nom­i­na­tions for this year’s awards are now open.


Yet while busi­ness lead­er­ship is im­por­tant, Julie Anne Gen­ter says gov­ern­ment needs to take the lead. It’s why by 2021, she plans to have closed the gen­der pay gap in the pub­lic sec­tor.

“The rea­son there is a com­mit­ment to the core pub­lic sec­tor is be­cause this is the area we have the most con­trol over,” she ex­plains. “As a gov­ern­ment, we need to show how we can close the gap. What this in­volves is en­sur­ing that ev­ery CEO un­der­stands they have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pri­ori­tise this, ac­tively mea­sure the gen­der pay gap within their or­gan­i­sa­tion and take the nec­es­sary steps to close it.”

Such so­lu­tions can be found in the same place where Jo Copeland achieved suc­cess – im­ple­ment­ing and main­tain­ing ef­fec­tive HR poli­cies that pro­vide the frame­work for fe­males to be treated equally within an or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Both Jo and Julie Anne agree that more ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tion is needed and that it is vi­tal we pro­mote more women into lead­er­ship roles, both in gov­ern­ment and busi­ness, and de­velop fam­i­lyfriendly work­places.

Since an­nounc­ing she was preg­nant at the start of the year, Julie Anne has ex­pe­ri­enced first hand what it’s like as a mum-to-be in the work­force. Now 24 weeks, the min­is­ter says her preg­nancy has given her in­sights she wouldn’t have oth­er­wise had. These in­clude her own ex­pe­ri­ence of be­com­ing preg­nant at 38 while be­ing in a new job she loves.

“Over the Christ­mas break, I was think­ing, ‘How am I go­ing to ex­plain this to my col­leagues?’


I thought, ‘They prob­a­bly can’t sack me for hav­ing a baby’. Be­com­ing an MP is some­thing I’ve worked to­wards for years. It’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing time to be in gov­ern­ment and im­ple­ment poli­cies I be­lieve in, but the flip side is I’m also 38 and when it comes to hav­ing a baby, I don’t get to choose to wait any­more.”


Thank­fully, PM Jacinda Ardern an­nounced her preg­nancy be­fore Julie Anne. The pair are due seven weeks apart. “I’d tried un­suc­cess­fully to have chil­dren in op­po­si­tion,” says Julie Anne. “But now I’m in gov­ern­ment, it’s a bless­ing. This gov­ern­ment is so much more fam­ily-friendly. We don’t have an of­fi­cial parental pol­icy for MPs. Pre­vi­ous MPs have done what works for them but we do need to de­velop an of­fi­cial pol­icy be­cause we should be role mod­el­ling best prac­tice.”

But pol­icy alone will not ef­fec­tively stamp out the gen­der pay gap. She says the only way to drive quick change is to in­cite a rev­o­lu­tion within our work­ing cul­ture. She says big busi­nesses, such as Lion Brew­eries and Voda­fone are ex­cel­lent ex­am­ples.

“Lion Brew­eries was able to close their pay gap in New Zealand and Aus­tralia within one year. A lot of progress can be made when you start mea­sur­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to SkyCity chair­man Rob Camp­bell, clos­ing the gen­der pay gap makes good busi­ness sense. In fact, he says there is ab­so­lutely no ex­cuse for any or­gan­i­sa­tion in New Zealand not to do this.

“Equal­ity for men and women is a joint is­sue. When women are pe­nalised or re­stricted in any part of life it lim­its life for all,” he says.

“Boards need a full 360-de­gree view on their busi­ness and its en­vi­ron­ment to guide wisely. Try­ing to do this based on re­stricted gen­der and cul­tural out­looks makes no sense. There are no ex­cuses. Would a more equal role for women at the board ta­ble make a dif­fer­ence to equal pay? Of course it would. This is an easy piece of so­cial progress. Let’s stop the muck­ing around and do this.”

Re­mark­ably, the chal­lenges for small and medium en­ter­prises (SMEs) and large or­gan­i­sa­tions are one and the same.

“There is an ex­pec­ta­tion that for SMEs this would be more dif­fi­cult be­cause they have fewer over­heads and very few peo­ple who spe­cialise in HR. But when I spoke to a large or­gan­i­sa­tion who is do­ing quite a lot glob­ally and in New Zealand, they thought the chal­lenges are the same. As a gov­ern­ment we need to pro­vide tools and re­sources for smaller or­gan­i­sa­tions [to help them] mea­sure their pay gaps to close the pay gap,” says Julie Anne.

It’s some­thing Jo Copeland fought for in­ter­nally and is now stan­dard prac­tice at Simp­son Gri­er­son. But for the sta­tis­ti­cal pic­ture to change, a move­ment is needed. Both Jo and Julie Anne agree we need to look in­ter­na­tion­ally to coun­tries who have mixed leg­is­la­tion and ac­tion to ef­fec­tively close the gap. And there is move­ment hap­pen­ing over­seas. In Bri­tain, re­cent leg­is­la­tion re­quires com­pa­nies with 250 or more em­ploy­ees to pub­lish wage dif­fer­ences be­tween men and women ev­ery year. They are also re­quired to pro­vide de­tails on gaps in av­er­age bonuses paid. The idea is that this en­forced trans­parency will shame com­pa­nies into clos­ing their pay gap. Closer to home, Aus­tralia has gen­der equal­ity leg­is­la­tion and a Gen­der Equal­ity Agency, which has fought long and hard for change.

But our best in­spi­ra­tion must surely be Ice­land. The is­land had an equal pay act, dat­ing back to 1961, but it was be­ing ig­nored on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Women were still earn­ing, on av­er­age, be­tween 14% and 20% less than men. So thanks to the ef­forts of cam­paign groups like Ice­landic Women’s Rights As­so­ci­a­tion, this Jan­u­ary the coun­try be­came the first in the world to legally en­force equal pay – with penal­ties. Any pub­lic or pri­vate body em­ploy­ing more than 25 peo­ple has to be au­dited and re­ceive cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that it is pay­ing equal wages for work of equal value. If not, the com­pany is slapped with a daily fine. In this way, Ice­land hopes to close the gen­der pay gap by 2022.

Per­haps it’s time we got a lit­tle tougher?


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