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
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.”
LEADING THE CHARGE
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.
AT ALL LEVELS
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?’
‘IT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME WHAT POWER HEARTFELT STORIES CAN HAVE’
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?
‘WHEN WOMEN ARE PENALISED OR RESTRICTED IN ANY PART OF LIFE IT LIMITS LIFE FOR ALL’