Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Ladies, From November 28, You’re Working For Free: A Deep Dive Into NZ’s Gender Pay Gap

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November 28 is #NoPayDay, where Kiwi women are effectively working for free for the rest of the year because of the gender pay gap. We look into any progress on pay-gap reporting for New Zealand businesses – and speak to some women with strong opinions.

Amy*, an Auckland accountant, isn’t (ironically enough, given her profession) allowed to talk about pay rates or even tiered pay scales with her colleagues, let along ask about the company’s gender pay gap. She thinks she’s probably paid less than a male colleague doing effectively the same job, but hasn’t asked about it, because it’s known to be a no-go zone within the company. “I actually don’t understand why some people are precious or secretive about what they’re paid. Everyone should be free to discuss their pay with their colleagues or whomever they choose.”

Sally*, an administrator from Napier, realised while talking to a male colleague doing the same job that there was a large pay gap, and successfully made her case for a raise. “I wish I’d known earlier, because I effectively lost thousands of dollars. Money I really needed.”

So, yeah, New Zealand’s gender pay gap. Not great. It’s hovered, stubbornly, at around nine percent (currently, 9.2) for the last decade. YES, DECADE. Were intelligent aliens to turn up and hear that women are paid nine percent less than men, they might be shocked, but unfortunately, we’re more used to it.

No, there’s no single answer, but there’s an obvious question to ask: why hasn’t legislation been passed to require New Zealand businesses to publish their pay-gap stats? It’s mandatory in New Zealand’s public sector. It’s mandatory for private businesses in countries including the U.K. and Australia.

Kirsty*, a Wellington business exec, feels she’s paid fairly well, but is passionate about this issue on behalf of friends and, really, all females. “Honestly, I can’t believe pay-gap reporting is still voluntary in New Zealand. Unbelievable.” Kirsty is a fan of the Gender Pay Gap Bot (@paygapapp), which has 232.8K Twitter followers.

The bot was created by a U.K couple: copywriter Francesca Lawson and her software-developer partner Ali Fensome, during a Lockdown. On March 8, International Women’s Day, when UK-based organisations tweeted #IWD2022 to hail the occasion, @paygapapp replied stating the gender pay gap in that organisation. The bot went viral. A Twitter user created a thread about the employers who subsequently deleted their #IWD2022 tweets.

The bot’s source? Data published following a 2017 government mandate that required every U.K. company with 250 or more employees to report the difference in earnings between male and female workers.

“The compulsory reporting in the UK helped create this marvelous little honesty monster,” Kirsty says. “I want a bot for New Zealand! Companies have to be made to tell the truth, unfortunately. The system is set up to be unequal as it’s always been (thanks, patriarchy) so unfortunately laws have to be made to keep them [companies] honest – and let women and men see what’s really going on.”

What Is #NoPayDay?

November 28 is the second annual #NoPayDay, an initiative by Global Women New Zealand (a collective of female New Zealand business leaders). They’re urging Kiwi women to ‘down tools’ today to raise awareness of the gender pay gap. Our 9.2 percent gender pay gap means that for every 365 days the average Kiwi man is paid for, the average Kiwi woman is only paid for 331 days. And so today, the 332nd day of the year, marks the point at which women are effectively working for free til year’s end.

The initiative encourages women “to unite by setting their out-of-office [email] message with the claim they will be ‘back next year’.”

This is Global Women’s suggested message if you want to cut and paste:

I am out of office until 1 January 2023.

That got your attention – didn’t it? I am not, but for some women, they may as well be.

On average New Zealand women are paid 9.2% less than our male counterparts – and with 9.2% of the year left, this effectively means that from today onwards, the average Kiwi woman is working for free. 

This inequality is even worse for Māori and Pasifika women, who began “working for free” from November 4th. 

We urgently need to close the gender pay gap and bring pay equity and transparency to the fore in New Zealand. Please join us by sharing this message in your out of office today in order to help us raise awareness of the need for pay equity and pay transparency in Āotearoa New Zealand.

You can find out more about the equity initiatives Global Women is driving such as Champions for Change and programmes we are supporting including Mind the Gap and the Pay Secrecy campaign on


Or – and this is my suggestion, not Global Women’s – write something more colourful if you think you can get away with it without getting grumpy looks from your boss. Probably explain you’re not actually taking the rest of the year off, unless this is the day you’ve decided to quit your job which, hey, power move. 

Also my own suggestion: a #NoPayDay (I’d call it #DownToolsDay) annual holiday for women, with parties funded by male taxpayers or our male colleagues. A girl can dream!

My wishful thinking aside, Global Women “wants to use this day to encourage individuals and organisations to have an open conversation about the inequalities that drive ethnic and gender pay gaps. This inequality is even worse for women of colour with the pay gap between all men and wāhine Māori, and between all men and Pasifika women, sitting substantially higher at 15.7 percent. This equates to both groups of women having begun ‘working for free’ from November 4th.” [For information on the long-term effect this can have on who retires with what money – spoiler alert, it’s terrible for women – check out Capsule’s story on the pension pay gap].

So Global Women wants to encourage organisations to monitor, report on and scrutinise pay gaps, then make a plan to correct them. And they’d like employers to state a clear salary band when recruiting.

Mind The Gap

Dellwyn Stuart (CEO of feminist organisation YWCA Aotearoa New Zealand), and Jo Cribb (former Chief Executive at the Ministry for Women) have created MindTheGap – a campaign/initiative determined to help close the gender pay gap.

On International Women’s Day in March, MindTheGap launched a national Pay Gap Registry. This shows, for the first time, whether a New Zealand business is publishing its gender and ethnic pay gaps. The registry, which features the chairperson’s and CEO’s names, launched with 47 large employers onboard. 75 are now publishing, and others promising to do so by a certain date. The numbers don’t show on the registry – a button redirects you to a webpage that shows them.

A Petition Goes To Parliament

November 8 2022 was a big day in Aotearoa. For the first time, there were more female MPs than male MPs (60 women, 59 men). Amazing. But that’s inside parliament; what about outside parliament?

Outside Parliament a month earlier, on 11 October 2022, 30 women from or supporting MindTheGap presented a petition called “Close the gender and ethnic pay gaps: Make pay gap reporting mandatory for businesses in New Zealand”. (That’s for businesses with more than 50 staff.)

The petition, with 8000-plus signatures, was addressed to: The Government – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Hon Jan Tinetti (the Minister for Women) and Hon Priyanca Radhakrishnan. (Associate Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety). Presumably they were busy, as MindTheGap leaders handed the petition to Green MP Jan Logie, who said she’d continue to try to bring about change.

In 2017, Logie’s member’s bill on pay transparency failed its first reading by one vote. It wanted information collected by the IRD, about pay rates of men and women doing the same jobs, to be publicly available. But to be clear, MindTheGap is only asking for businesses to be mandated to monitor and report on their pay gaps.

On Parliament’s steps, 24-year-old Nina Santos – an Auckland-based pay-equity advocate and MindTheGap’s delivery manager – talked passionately about how migrants, disabled people, gender-diverse communities and other minority groups can bear the brunt of pay gaps.

“Those with the privilege and bargaining power need to advocate for those who can’t.”

As she tells Capsule, “I advocate for an intersectional approach on pay gaps, as opposed to a hyper-focus on gender and excluding other intersections of identity which can make pay gaps worse”.

A Kiwibank Local Hero Medallist who moved from Manila to Aotearoa aged 14, Nina points out that even being able to advocate for closing pay gaps – let alone get to parliament on your lunch break – requires a certain level of privilege. “People on low incomes often don’t have the headspace to worry about ‘pay gaps,’ because they have to worry about putting food on the table. Which is why it’s SO important for those afforded with privilege to speak up and use their platforms to advocate for change, and to advocate for those who can’t due to power imbalances and other barriers. This applies in workplaces too – those with the privilege and bargaining power need to advocate for those who can’t.”

After speaking outside Parliament, MindTheGap leaders cut a cake that resembled a pie chart which represented the proportion of money earned by the following groups. For every $1 a Pākehā man earns, a Pākehā woman earns 89 cents, a Māori man 86 cents, an Asian man 86 cents, an Asian woman 83 cents, a Pasifika man 81 cents, a Māori woman 81 cents, and a Pasifika woman 75 cents. A whopping $17.6 billion a year is the tally of money missing in the pay packets of women, Māori, Pacific and other ethnic workers, when compared to Pākehā men.

These stats come from a report called “Pay gaps – an $17.6 billion a year issue”, based on work by economic-and-policy researchers Motu, in partnership with MindTheGap.

As the report notes, international evidence shows mandatory reporting can reduce otherwise-unexplained differences in pay by between 20 to 40 percent, which, in New Zealand, could mean up to an extra $35 dollars a week for women. That’s $1820 a year. Who doesn’t need that?

How Pay Transparency Can Help The Gender Pay Gap

So what is pay transparency? There are degrees, but generally it means enabling employees to compare their wages with others in their workplace or sector to determine whether they’re paid appropriately. The Ministry for Women has published case studies on how pay transparency works in Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, and the U.K.

Yes, some people will cite privacy concerns, but is pay transparency really such a crazy idea? Could we gradually become more comfortable with it because we know it’s widely beneficial? Perhaps rather than an employer saying ‘Sally earns X’ and ‘Steve earns X’, it could tell employees doing the same work that ‘the highest pay is X and the lowest is X’.

Parliament’s Education and Workforce select committee recently investigated pay transparency and, in March, presented its report. It recommended a “comprehensive pay transparency regime” to remedy inequities. Minister Radhakrishnan says the government is considering whether such a regime would be beneficial. “We are already developing and implementing a range of tools that will address the pay gap.”

Any response to the MindTheGap petition? Not directly. But Radhakrishnan and Tinetti have announced there will be an advisory group on pay transparency (a task taken on by the pre-existing National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women). For MindTheGap, that step is underwhelming.

Change Inside Workplaces                               

Angela Meyer is the co-founder of Project Gender, a social-change agency commissioned to provide insights’ research, campaigns and workable solutions. Angela, also co-founder of feminist network the Gender Justice Collective, recently became the New Zealand financial sector’s first gender-equity consultant. Global company Mercer, which provides or manages investment funds as Mercer Financial Services, employs her to go into its clients’ workplaces should they wish.

“My offer is to look at their gender pay gap, at their opportunities for engaging female customers, or female employees internally, from a workplace-wellbeing perspective. I put together a report on what they can do, help develop a strategy for them, then can help implement it.” She says there’s definitely an appetite among businesses for tackling this issue.

“Also the Pay Gap Registry is a really powerful tool because we know that businesses are competitive, and we’re in a very tight labour market. Lots of people [applicants] are asking organisations about their ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] goals. If businesses are actually reporting on their gender pay gap, that’s a signal for the talent who are looking to move [jobs].” Closing the gender pay gap is pressing, she says. “It’s embarrassing we haven’t done it because, you know, 2022.”

She thinks #NoPayDay sounds great. “I like the idea of putting something on your email signature that says ‘hey just so you know, this is the case’.”

Whether we’re writing an out-of-office email, signing a petition, spearheading a national campaign, or starting a conversation at work, proactive steps can help push the needle a little. Men, you’re welcome to join us.

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