Paula Bennett slams gender pay gap

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Women’s Minister Paula Bennett has slammed New Zealand’s “unacceptable” gender pay gap after a report investigating the issue was released earlier today.

“It is simply unacceptable that women who are as productive and contribute so significantly to business and the economy are paid less than men,” said Bennett, who was making her first major speech since taking on the government role.

The report – conducted by the Auckland University of Technology on behalf of the Ministry for Women – was commissioned in a bid to identify the major drivers behind New Zealand’s pay gap, which has remained at roughly 12 per cent for the last 10 years.

“The last time research was done – back in 2003 – it identified a range of factors that contributed to 40 to 80 per cent of the gender pay gap,” said Bennett. “They’re the traditional factors that we all know about – they include the differences in occupation and industry of employment, differences in the amount of work experience between women and men, and women’s qualifications relative to men.”

However, women have addressed many of these issues since the last report was conducted and are now more educated than ever before and are more likely than men to gain tertiary certificates, diplomas or bachelors and above.

As a result, Bennett said the latest findings are “really disappointing” because they suggest the traditional drivers are no longer having such a major impact and the imbalance is now largely due to misconceptions and bias.

“What this report, in 2017, has found is that those are no longer the biggest factors in why women are paid less than men. In fact, those traditional reasons play a very small role – around 20 per cent can be explained for these reasons,” she said.

“Up to 84 per cent of the reason for the pay gap – that’s right, 84 per cent – is described as ‘unexplained factors,’” continued Bennett. “That means its bias against women, both conscious and unconscious.”

Bennett, who was delivering her speech to members of the Human Resource Institute of New Zealand, then called on industry professionals to make a change.

“You are a powerful group of people, you do the hiring. You are involved in setting pay rates,” she said. “I’m here today to tell you that it’s no longer acceptable to keep ignoring this issue.

“I’m not here to tell you off, or put the blame on you. We need to look for solutions. We need to consciously work together to put this right.”

Bennett acknowledged that organisations don’t set out to create a pay gap but said it’s all too easy for one to creep in as women tend to accept less and are often reluctant to negotiate.

“A gender pay audit might be a good way to find if there is a problem,” she suggested. “Look at your recruitment processes, look at whether women are being promoted into positions they deserve, are you shoulder tapping people when they’re worthy of promotion? Often women are being recruited but not retained or progressed to senior management.”

Bennett also urged employers to remember three things – “It’s not about what you can get away with, it’s not about what she is willing to accept, it’s simply about you paying her what she is worth.”

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