Is this the year we fix the gender pay gap?

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Angela Thomas of KPMG says she'll happily hit the links with men if her busy work schedule allows. Photo/John Borren

By Dawn Picken

Could 2017 be the year New Zealand addresses the gender pay gap? Kiwi politicians have promised action following a decade of stalled progress and a new study showing 80 per cent of factors accounting for why women earn on average 12 per cent less than men can't be explained. Bay of Plenty Weekend Times reporter Dawn Picken spoke with local women who revealed how attitudes, habits and hobbies have affected their career paths.

Angela Thomas - Director, KPMG

It's a sunny Tuesday afternoon when I meet Angela Thomas at accounting firm KPMG in Tauranga. She enlivens the spare conference room by way of introduction. "I'm not your normal accountant ... most accountants don't race cars and have their truck licence. I don't see myself as different, I don't see myself as female ... I golf with the boys more than the girls."

Ms Thomas is one of three female directors in a team of four. It's a position the 46-year-old has held three years. "We certainly do realise there are benefits to having gender diversity in our senior management roles ... we will actively target increasing those numbers and employing to suit that." She says the global organisation audits pay scales internally and corrects any issues.

Ms Thomas says parity matters partly because workplace diversity can boost profits. "We talk about business measures in our job all the time, and that is a business measure that ... until you start measuring it, you don't realise you're out of sync and you don't know how to fix it."

A study commissioned by the NZ Ministry for Women undertaken by researchers at Auckland University of Technology and the University of Waikato provides empirical evidence of a national gender pay gap between men and women.

The survey of more than 13,500 people released last week found traditional drivers such as type of work, family responsibilities, education and age no longer explain the majority of the divide.

Researchers found around 80 per cent of the gender pay gap due to "unexplained" factors which the Ministry for Women views primarily as behaviour, attitudes and assumptions about women in work, including unconscious bias.

The Ministry highlights Kiwi women's qualifications have increased between 2003 and today, yet the pay differential between females and males has remained static.

A United Nations Human Rights Commission Project published on International Women's Day (8 March) has found women worldwide are likely to earn $600,000 less than men over their working lives.

New Zealand's Equal Pay Act, enacted nearly 25 years ago in 1972 (see Fact Box) was meant to remedy pay discrimination. Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, has suggested organisations conduct a gender pay audit to learn if there are problems.

Ms Thomas says KPMG already conducts internal salary assessments. After spending 20 years in the commercial sector including stints in the UK and Canada, she doesn't think she's ever been paid less than a male colleague.

She has, however, made sacrifices in her personal life while raising her 14-year-old daughter.

"Having said that, I guess the guys are equally missing out." She's thankful her current workplace provides flexibility and job satisfaction.

"I've always wanted to challenge myself to succeed and make a difference in the community. I come to work because I love the work I do with my clients."

Tauranga attorney Shima Grice says her firm works to ensure pay parity among men and women. Photo/John Borren
Tauranga attorney Shima Grice says her firm works to ensure pay parity among men and women. Photo/John Borren

Shima Grice - Partner, Sharp Tudhope

I sit down with Shima Grice at another Tauranga conference room, this one with a Mount view.

"I'm doing the Everest Challenge at the moment," she says (summiting the Mount 38 times in 50 days). The 39-year-old partner at Sharp Tudhope echoes opinions of all the female leaders I interviewed for this story, saying women need to be more confident.

"If a woman sees a list of ten attributes she has to have, she wants to have all ten before she'll even apply, whereas men say, 'Eh, five or six, I'm good.'" Mrs Grice says women must back each other, too.

"A lot of the qualities we are told are important for women growing up - assertive gets classified as aggressive ... so we are taught to behave in ways that are feminine, but don't necessarily work to our advantage in pursuing careers. It's all very well to assert your rights, but that might be a career-limiting move in the long term."

The employment relations attorney worked on gender pay issues on behalf of employers for four years in the UK, returning to New Zealand in 2008. "Britain had spent about ten years coming to grips with it. We hadn't even started thinking about it. So I think we've got a lot of work to do in that space."

She says her own law firm is a meritocracy where employees are paid according to their experience and skills.

As for ways to bridge the wage divide, Mrs Grice draws from experience as the mother of two girls, ages four and six. She says the Government can implement practical strategies such as increasing free early childhood care beyond 20 hours for workers and students, as well as extending paid maternity leave and allowing women to keep in touch with work while on leave.

She says the public sector may need to lead the way in opening its books to a gender pay audit, similar to what happened in the UK.

"That was really interesting comparing large groups of female-dominated jobs to male-dominated jobs to work out what the pay gap was. And there was a massive gap, hence, there was a lot of litigation and millions of pounds of payments paid."

Statistics New Zealand released new figures last month showing mums' post-partum salaries are lower than dads': the pay gap between mothers and fathers in New Zealand is 17 per cent.

Uni of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance and Bay Venues Strategic Manager Justine Brennan. Photo/File
Uni of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance and Bay Venues Strategic Manager Justine Brennan. Photo/File

Justine Brennan - Manager, University of Waikato Adams Centre for High Performance/Strategic Manager, Bay Venues Limited

Growing up on a farm, Justine Brennan says she watched her father and three older brothers doing "all the important work," while her mum stayed at home, "basically running around serving the boys."

She determined at an early age she wanted a career outside the home. "I worked really hard to ensure I created the opportunities and chased them down because I wanted to be in a leadership role." Ms Brennan worked in agriculture, aquaculture and forestry before joining the team at the High Performance Centre and Bay Venues.

"I've never back knocked back because I've been a woman ... but in terms of pay inequity, I don't think you can really argue with the statistics around that." She references a US survey that found golf caddies (who are mostly men) earn an average $17 US an hour; while caregivers (mostly women) are paid $9 an hour. "It's half of what a man gets to stroll around a golf course. It's crazy. I think it's around valuing the roles women have always had."

The 42-year-old greets me at the High Performance Centre in Mount Maunganui, where her office is tucked between the car park and the 650sq m gym. Ms Brennan credits her own mother for helping her career.

Thanks to Mum, she can work fulltime while raising her 13-year-old son as a single parent. She's also managing a new home build. The former champion rower coaches her own child in the sport and says she wouldn't drop that to become a chief executive.

"Because women are the primary caregivers and they keep the ship afloat, that's what stops a lot of people going further. And as your kids get older, that stuff takes more time ... not less."

Ms Brennan says most of Bay Venues' senior leaders are women, but just one female sits on the board. "Her term is about to expire ... that says a lot about the fact there is an issue because you've got a whole lot of senior women in this organisation, but around the actual governance table where the decisions are taken, and really, the impact sits, we've got one." The issue is reflected throughout New Zealand businesses, where 17 per cent of publicly-listed company directors are female. Just one firm on the NZX 50 - Chorus - has a woman at the helm.

Ms Brennan says women who do more - inside and outside the home - should get paid more. "Education is the key to changing culture over generations. But it doesn't happen overnight."

Sara Lunam - Corporate Services Manager, Port of Tauranga

Sara Lunam is another Bay woman who has managed traditionally-male organisations. She's worked in shipping, rail and trucking. Ms Lunam says she's confident the Port recruits, pays and promotes on merit.

"If you discriminate based on gender, you're depriving your organisation of 50 per cent of the opportunities." She says any gender pay gap is intolerable. "The best person gets the role and the pay is market-led and relative to experience and the job. There's exactly the same money; there's no conscious or unconscious bias and no reason to have a difference."

Ms Lunam is one of several women I spoke to for this article who recommended Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. "She says women have to lean into their careers. If you want a career, have the courage to put your hand up. In terms of negotiating salaries, know what you're worth. Don't compromise on what the market or merit suggests you're worth ... It staggers me today that this [gender pay gap] is an issue. It clearly is, but I find it intriguing."

A study in Australia last year involving 4600 workers across more than 800 employers found no difference in the likelihood of men and women asking for pay increases. But results showed men were 25 per cent more likely to receive pay rises they asked for.

Despite more opportunities in business and education, attorney Shima Grice says she doesn't think the gender wage divide will ever shrink to zero. "I think as soon as women, to be brutally honest, do take time off for maternity leave, they're out of the workforce ... they don't have that experience - or even that tenure that a male colleague does. But I think there are definitely some things we can do to help."

Justine Brennan says women must create the change they seek. "Go out there and hunt down opportunities. If you're going to wait for the world to hand it to you on a platter, you'll be waiting a long time."

Politicians' Views on the Gender Pay Gap

The Green Party has introduced a member's bill to have gender pay transparency indexes published.

We asked local Members of Parliament and political candidates their views.

Simon Bridges, National MP

The Minister says he agrees with Minister for Women Paula Bennett's suggestion to conduct gender pay audits. "Businesses don't want a gender pay gap and an audit is a good way to check that and address any issues." He says the Government publishes gender pay gap data by department. "Through our actions we aim to encourage employers to address the issue in the private sector."

Todd Muller, National MP

"We need to work hard to eliminate the unconscious bias that exists within the workforce. I have been guilty of this myself in previous roles, too quick to take advice on what market value is, not consistently testing to ensure we are paying blind to gender for the role advertised." Mr Muller says we need to have the conversation in the workplace for every role advertised.

Clayton Mitchell, NZ First MP

Mr Mitchell says an audit would be a step in the right direction, "... but I hope it's not just another pre-election promise without a post-election outcome. New Zealand First does not see this issue as a woman's issue, we see it as a workplace relations issue and it desperately needs to be resolved."

Jan Tinetti, Tauranga Labour Candidate

"Gender pay audits need to be carried out and principles of equity and fairness need to be addressed. Ensuring timeframes around implementation of this would then be negotiated in the industrial context."

Western Bay District Council

Jan Pederson, Director, Organisational Development, says all staff positions are independently vetted through a system that doesn't allow for gender bias. "We're very comfortable that there are no gender pay gaps using this system." She says 53 per cent of Western Bay staff are female and its senior management team is made up of equal numbers of males and females.

Tauranga City Council

Karen Lysaught, General Manager People & Capability, says TCC has no plans to undertake a gender pay audit. "With regards to pay, Council uses a job evaluation methodology to size our positions, which includes factors such as the complexity and responsibility of the position, and then obtain market information. This approach ensures that jobs that have the same level of complexity and impact have the same earning potential."

Trustpower

General Manager People and Culture Melanie Dyer says her company has not found individual pay comparisons useful at face value. "Predominantly this is because remuneration is a complex topic which is driven by many facets such as knowledge, skills, experience, tenure and performance." She says over the past four years, 80 people have participated in Trustpower's leadership programme, "... with women representing over 50 per cent of the three recent years' successful applicants."

Vodafone

External Communication Specialist Bailey Cunningham says, "There is no significant pay disparity in Vodafone between men and women who are in like-for-like roles." She says the global telecommunications company uses software to ensure job advertisements are free from biased language. "They also strive to provide shortlists that are gender balanced where possible for frontline management and executive roles." Vodafone announced a worldwide initiative in 2015 surrounding its maternity policy that allows eligible employees to work four days and be paid for five their first six months back at work.

Equal Pay Act 1972

No employer shall refuse or omit to offer or afford any person the same terms of employment, conditions of work, fringe benefits, and opportunities for training, promotion, and transfer as are made available for persons of the same or substantially similar qualifications employed in the same or substantially similar circumstances on work of that description by reason of the sex of that person.

www.legislation.govt.nz

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