In 2016, as in pretty much every year since the beginning of time, a pair of ovaries may as well be a ‘discounted’ sticker in the New Zealand job market. Last Friday, the latest gender pay gap statistics were released. In news that will likely surprise exactly no one, women are currently paid 12 per cent less than men.
It’s the widest the pay gap has been since 2008, though the official statistics have never dropped below 9 per cent. The measure – reflecting the difference in the median hourly wage between men and women in both full-time and part-time employment – has always been controversial, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the reality it presents: that women are less-valued by employers than men.
So what is the government doing about it? According to a press release sent out on Friday, supporting some positive initiatives that nevertheless have absolutely no teeth when it comes to actually bringing about the kind of systemic change needed to ensure that women are paid fairly. Our heroic Minister for Women explained.
“Ms Upston says the government is working hard to address the gender pay gap and supported initiatives such the YWCA Equal Pay Awards, and the White Camellia awards, which celebrate commitment to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs).”
So, some people who treat women like equal human beings get a nice pat on the back.
What the Minister seems unable to acknowledge is that what the government is doing is not working. So what could actually be done to fix the problem?
The short answer? Lots. If you have the guts to do it.
Take Obama’s new equal pay rules, for example. From 2017 onwards, US companies with more than 100 staff will be required to report what their employees are paid, broken down by gender, ethnicity and race to the federal government. Companies that are found to be paying women less than men for the same work may then be prosecuted under the Equal Pay Act. A similar scheme could easily be implemented in New Zealand
Or, to hone the same premise in to focus on pay parity at an organisational level, the government could legislate to make pay transparency compulsory. If everyone knew what their colleagues were being paid, it is likely that organisations would be forced to treat their employees more equitably. As Forbes reports, an example of the power of transparency could be seen in the fallout of the Sony hack, when Charlize Theron became aware of (and took immediate action to fix) a $10 million pay discrepancy between her and her male co-star Chris Hemsworth.
Other ideas involving changing the structure of work to allow mothers in the workforce more flexibility, usurping traditional gender roles so that men and women are supported to care for their children and shoulder the burden of unpaid work in the home equally, valuing care-based female-dominated professions, abolishing salary negotiation processes that likely favour men, providing incentives to increase the number of women in STEM courses and other such measures could also make a difference, but what New Zealand most needs is strong leadership from its government if closing the pay gap is to be a priority.
And that strong leadership requires systemic change. As years of statistics have proven, the current feel-good, ill-defined measures aimed at “supporting and developing women leaders and… increasing representation of women in governance and leadership,” are not working. Saying that you’re “working hard” to fix a problem without providing the public with any evidence of exactly how you plan to do it – or any positive results to prove the efficacy of your efforts is not good enough anymore.
New Zealand women deserve better. A full 12 per cent better.