Sunday Star-Times

PM’s baby a reminder there’s still work to do

For all our sakes, let’s close close the gender pay gap, Ellen Read writes.

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News that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting their first child will help normalise working mothers in New Zealand.

It’s exciting, 125 years after women won the right to vote in New Zealand, to have a pregnant PM joining the other working mothers in the Beehive.

While maternity leave provisions have already been in the headlines since Labour took office, we mustn’t congratula­te ourselves too quickly as there is a lot of work yet to be done in workplaces up and down the country.

Pay equity is shocking in New Zealand – the gender pay gap stood at 9.4 per cent in September, according to Stats NZ.

It would never occur to anyone to pay Ardern less for taking on the top job than her male predecesso­rs.

People from all over the political spectrum would be outraged. So why do we accept that discrimina­tion happening in so many other jobs?

Pay equity starts with pay transparen­cy. We need to start having open conversati­ons about who is paid what and why. What salaries people start on, what incentives there are, what rises are given.

Yes it’s uncomforta­ble but it’s the logical starting point. And it’s a sign of a liberal society that informatio­n is open and shared.

Business can lead in this field, if our big companies start being public about pay (and not just the pay bands they are forced to disclose in annual reports).

We also need to be talking about the pay disparity that exists between those in the top jobs and the teams they lead.

The current secrecy is not serving women well, as is reflected by the fact that the pay gap gets bigger the more you earn.

That said, money to address the issue will need to be found from somewhere so it’s important the Government bring business into the debate rather than scare it off. That won’t help anyone.

Big business needs to lead the way and that will only happen if it’s truly on board (ha, see what I did there?).

It also has support that transcends party politics. This is what constructi­ve government looks like.

Men and women from all parties have expressed support and a willingnes­s to act.

The media has a role to play too, a very important one. We must share the success stories, hold the offenders to account and, vitally, make sure the Government follows through.

The Government is aiming to close the gender pay gap in the public sector within four years, Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said in November.

‘‘We’ll start by leading . . . we are going to close the gender pay gap in the core public state service. I think we can do that within four years and I think we should be aiming to do that as quickly as possible,’’ she told Q&A.

This will be done by holding the chief executives of government agencies ‘‘accountabl­e’’ and writing equal pay for women into their Key Performanc­e Indicators (KPIs).

That’s a great first step. But we also need a strong - and diverse working group to nut out the details and put plans in place. Again, this will need to be done carefully to bring people along on the journey and make them fully invested, rather than unwilling and lagging.

That said, a little bit of putting some rules in place and forcing this to happen is a good back up plan. It’s not something we can afford to put in the ‘too hard’ basket.

Let’s make it a double celebratio­n this year with strong action on pay equity as we celebrate a milestone in suffrage.

That will be a better country for the first baby to inherit.

And another thing for New Zealand to be proud of.

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