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Equal Pay – Some thoughts from the Deputy Prime Minister

On 7 March, I attended a presentation given by Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett, at an HR Institute of New Zealand gathering, to highlight recent research into the pay gap between men and women.

Commissioned by the Ministry for Women, a research paper entitled “Empirical Evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand” was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister, in her role as Minster for Women. A full copy of the research paper is available from the Ministry for Women

Minister Bennett stated that when last looked at in 2013, reasons given for the pay gap between genders was explained as being due to men and women working in different occupations and/or industries, their work experience and women’s qualifications relative to men.

Move forward to 2017 and 64% to 83% of the factors behind the pay gap cannot be explained, leading researchers to conclude that bias, attitudes and assumptions towards women’s worth in work are still impacting on their pay rates.

Minster Bennett stated that the pay gap appears when you start looking up the ranks. Everyone must start on at least the minimum adult wage, and so there is little or no room for a pay gap at the lower end of the ranks. However, as you move up and look at more senior positions the difference widens to be 12% to 14% with approximately 80% of that difference down to unexplained factors.

The challenge, put out by the Minister, is for all New Zealand businesses to close that gap and to do so with intent. The research commissioned by the Ministry for Women shows that females are still less likely to put themselves forward for a promotion unless they are sure they can do 100% of the job. This compares with men, who will put themselves forward for a promotion when they have confidence in their ability to do at least 60% the job. Minister Bennett says that women need to do more to help themselves and not focus on being able to do 100% of the job. Bennett says, if men can get the promotions based on a 60% fit, then so too can women.

It will take time for women to change their mindset. However, employers can help them. The challenge for businesses is to push for women to put their names forward for roles. If an employer receives only applicants from males, they should be asking themselves, “where are the women?” and then actively go out and seek them.

Bennett says this doesn’t mean just give the jobs to women. She says the best person for the job should still be appointed. Minister Bennett said, “If your best man is likely to only be able to do 60% of the job, then there is likely to be a woman out there who can do as much if not more of the job. They’re just holding back because they haven’t’ ticked 100% of the job.”

By way of example, Minister Bennett spoke of Prime Minister English, when he was Finance Minister, receiving shortlists for jobs with only male applicants. Minister Bennett said that English challenged his officials to find women applicants and bring the short list back to him. Because of this, women applicants were found and, by still appointing the best person for the role, 48% of appointments ended up going to woman. If the Prime Minister hadn’t pushed for his officials to present female candidates on the short list, then those women would have missed out on roles that they were not only capable of performing, but were the best suited candidate.

Minister Bennett said that the Government will not be legislating for businesses to close the pay gap, however in the state sector, where Bennett is also the Minister of State Services, she is asking CE’s to report annually on their gender pay gap and will be holding departments to account for closing that gap.

Challenge your perceptions and pre-conceived ideas on who can perform the work in your company. If you are not getting female candidates coming through from your recruitment process, then ask your recruiters why? Challenge them to go and find female candidates.

Finally, when employing woman, be aware of any potential for conscious or unconscious bias. When appointing or promoting women, pay them for what they are worth, not what you think you can get away with or what you think she will accept. Make sure that your recruitment processes and policies are not contributing to the gender pay gap – strengthen them so they demonstrate a solution to closing the pay gap.

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