Landmark gender equality case should not be ignored

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HR professionals are being advised to pay attention to the on-going court case over gender pay   regardless of what sector they work within.

The Employment Court has ruled women in female-dominated industries can compare themselves to men in other industries requiring similar skills when pushing for pay equality.

The ruling is part of a test case between Lower Hutt aged-care worker Kristine Bartlett, supported by the Service and Food Workers Union, and her employer TerraNova Homes and Care.

The ruling is only a preliminary decision and Bartlett still has to prove that TerraNova paid her less because she was a woman.

Blair Scotland, Principal at Dundas Street Employment Lawyers, said HR professionals and employers within the sector should “definitely” be paying attention to where the decision get to, but those not directly involved should also be keeping a “watching brief” on it.

AUT University Faculty of Business Gender and Diversity Research group member Dr Katherine Ravenswood agreed.

“This is a case that HR managers should pay attention to. It is a landmark case in that it sets out parameters for considering equal pay between industries which are female dominated in comparison to male dominated industries,” she said. “This Act has not been utilised much in its 40-year plus existence because it had only been applied on the basis of comparing individuals, usually within one organisation.”

Ravenswood said while this particular case is about caregiving, “obvious comparisons could follow in other female, low paid industries such as cleaning, retail and hospitality”.

“It would be a mistake, however, to think that it will have little impact on other industries and professions,” Ravenswood said. “For example, anecdotally there is considerable difference in pay rates between librarians (female dominated) and IT (male dominated) with librarians often having specialised postgraduate qualifications.

“Or perhaps HR managers could think in terms of senior management positions across industries. For example, do senior managers in retail get paid comparably more or less than in construction or law for similar responsibilities, experience and qualifications because retail may be a more female dominated industry? Senior management is also increasingly under the spotlight with, for example, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In highlighting inequalities in management careers for women, and having a global impact on society’s views on women and management.”

Scotland agrees it could spill over into other areas.

“If I was an HR or employer in an area that was dominated primarily by one gender then I would be worried and I would be thinking about [the outcome],” he said.

Ravenswood said it also presents an opportunity for forward-thinking HR managers to get ahead of the competition and think of the role they can play in employer branding.

“It can certainly do no harm to be known as the organisation that saw the importance and benefits of addressing gender inequalities in pay ahead of the pack,” Ravenswood said.

What are your views on this case? Should HR professionals be keeping an eye on how it progresses or is it something to only worry about later down the track? Tell us your views in the comments.

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