Sunday, March 3, 2024

Opinion: Beyond the Gender Pay Gap – Why New Zealand Needs a Deeper Understanding of What Drives our Pay Gap to Fix It

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Fixing the gender pay gap should, on the surface, be a simple exercise – just bloody pay women more, right!? But the causes and contributing factors of New Zealand’s pay gap are far more complicated than you might think, says businesswoman and CEO of health and wellbeing provider ProCre Bindi Norwell.

Surely, it’s not still an issue, is it? That’s the rhetoric that I frequently hear about the gender pay gap in the places we naturally gather and chat, be that the water cooler or weekend barbeque.

On some level it’s true. We’ve come such a long way since women began meaningfully entering the workforce around the 1960s. We recognise and value women in our organisations, we rarely see blatant discrimination and frequently witness progression up a career ladder, so aren’t we beyond this discussion? However, within the same breath, many of us are flabbergasted that, despite all these achievements, the gender pay gap has not meaningfully moved in a decade, and still hovers around the 9% mark. 

According to Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission, most Kiwi want pay gaps resolved. So why hasn’t the pay gap moved significantly in a decade?

Bindi Norwell

Like-for-like we are all paid the same, aren’t we?

Most organisations would argue that for like-for-like roles, women do get paid the same as men. In some public sector roles including healthcare, the area I work in, pay is often set in bands and is based on experience levels which is published and reported, so you can see for the most part that’s exactly what’s happening. So, what our attention and understanding should turn to, is what has happened before a woman has even set foot in the workforce?  

You can’t be what you can’t see

In healthcare, one of the most glaringly obvious societal disadvantages for women is occupational segregation, which is the gender overrepresentation in certain job categories. When we’re asked to picture a nurse in our minds, I wonder how many of us would see a male? Currently, only around 8% of nurses are men, and until we see the roles of nurturers and carers are not only the domain of one gender and recognise and value these roles with pay parity, we’re unlikely to see meaningful change in closing the gender pay gap.  

Invisible barriers

Invisible barriers also exist for women which increase the pay divide even further, and that’s particularly true for those who identify as a woman as well as those from certain ethnic groups and migrants or those with a disability. If you fall into more than one of these categories it’s likely to accelerate the pay gap for you even further, so more attention and action is needed to redress those disadvantages which begin early on in places like schools. Further education is needed so we are lifting those up and over those barriers who may have several disadvantages at play, so they can be set on a pathway for future success.

The motherhood penalty

What few talk about is the impact motherhood can have on pay gaps and future career progression – what’s known as the motherhood penalty – with some reports suggesting it can impact earnings for women by 12.5% over their career. Organisations need to ensure that pay increases and growth opportunities are still offered to women who take time away to care for children, while they are on leave and when they return. 

But equally men should also be offered the same opportunities for career breaks to care for children too. Only around 1% of men in New Zealand currently take parental leave, which indirectly impacts career progression for women in men-women partnerships not only at the time of parental leave, but potentially into the future too.

In countries like Sweden, the number of fathers taking leave jumped significantly when non-transferable paid parental leave was introduced in 1995, ands it had a significant impact on closing the gender pay gap. This, alongside other progressive childcare and parental leave policies, has also had other positive outcomes like women having more savings once they reached retirement – great examples of what could be achieved here in New Zealand.

What gets measured, gets managed

There is some merit in the saying ‘what gets measured gets managed’. In relation to pay gap we wholeheartedly support this mantra, which is why we, along with around 100 other organisations across Aotearoa, signed up to Mind the Gap’s pay gap registry and committed to publicly reporting our pay gap.

While this is not a perfect science, at least we are collectively heading in the right direction towards closing the gaps, and ensuring we are utilising all of our talent, all of the time.

The fix?

While there isn’t a quick fix, and no doubt more underlying and complex issues than I’ve room to do justice to here, once we lift the curtain and look deeper at the underlying issues that cause our pay gap, rather than just focus on like-for-like pay, we might actually have a chance to meaningfully move that 9% dial. 

Bindi Norwell is the group CEO at ProCare. She is also a Board member for Appliance Connexion, Fresh Minds and Chair HQ. Additionally, she is the deputy chair of the Auckland branch of the Institute of Directors. Previous Board roles have included Whakarongorau Aotearoa, the EMA, Marketing Association and The Warehouse Group. 

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