Karanina Sumeo: Gender and ethnic pay gaps need addressing

Karanina Sumeo: Gender and ethnic pay gaps need addressing

September 24, 2019

When Wellington public professional Nia Bartley first found out she was not only paid less than someone in a similar role but also passed over for promotion, she was understandably devastated. But she was also outraged.

Bartley was a woman in a male-dominated profession that had its own unique challenges, but not once did it occur to her that her Pacific heritage would hold her back in the workplace.

"It's a double banger being a woman and on top of that being a woman of Pasifika heritage. There is extra effort and hoops that I need to jump through and when you get through, there is more."

Rosemary Cosgrove has a similar tale. She rose through the ranks as a company accountant to become the first female board member in a global company. At first, she was ecstatic. Cosgrove was a Māori woman who had shattered the glass ceiling in a company that was overwhelmingly Pākeha.

She soon realised though, that she was also the lowest-paid board director.

"To be honest, I was confused. I didn't know why it was happening? I didn't actually think it was because I was Māori or female at all. I felt hurt over that. Absolute anger."

The fact remains that many women across Aotearoa today continue to be underpaid and undervalued. It's disappointing, sexist, racist, and so "un-woke".

The discrimination around pay and career progression affects everyone, but especially people who identify as Māori, Pacific, disabled and from ethnic minority communities.

In August, Statistics New Zealand confirmed that the gender pay gap remains at 9.3 per cent. Pākeha men earned the highest among men and women.

When you compare the median hourly wage of Pākeha men with Māori women there is a 27 per cent gap, with Asian women, it is a 20 per cent gap, and for Pacific women, it is 29 per cent. Not all women are equal.

Focusing on reducing the 9.3 per cent gap in the hope the rest will lift is like hoping the rock will shift with the sands.

But it's not just our women that are affected. The gap between Pākeha men and those of Asian and/or Māori men is around 17 per cent. The gap between Pākeha and Pacific men is around 22 per cent.

The question we need to ask is why women, disabled and ethnic minority communities continue to be looked over for opportunities or are paid less than someone else doing the same or similar job.

A key step is to make pay scales, gender and ethnic pay gaps, and career progression public and transparent within organisations. If all employees knew their pay scales, opportunities and steps needed to progress, then marginalisation is minimised.

"You can't be what you can't see." Māori, Pacific and Asian ethnicities are still under-represented in the top three tiers of most organisations, including the public service.

Decision-making on these matters needs to be open to critique and change.

Our workplaces need to reflect the communities they serve. Unconscious bias training can help to open up conversations that encourage reflection as individuals, teams, organisations, sectors and industries.

Public accountability is equally important. Recording and reporting the gender and ethnic pay gaps need to be made mandatory for large businesses for a start. If you don't measure or report it, how then can you address it?

Through reporting data, businesses can begin to identify key areas that need urgent action, set targets, measures and re-think their employment processes share learning, and share responsibility with and for our communities.

It's great to see the public service leading the way in publishing their gender and ethnic pay gaps.

This week, Westpac NZ became one of the first corporates to publish their gender pay gap. I look forward to other organisations in the private sector following suit and addressing their gender and ethnic-based wage disparities.

Several awards are held every year to recognise efforts made by our businesses to address gender equality, equal pay, and to promote diversity and inclusion. Many winners are from large companies, but some small and medium enterprises including social services are proving that social justice is not restricted by size.

I challenge the public service and private sector to urgently address their gender and ethnic pay gaps. It requires hard work, determination and uncomfortable soul searching but it's the right thing to do. We must ensure that basic human rights to equality and dignity are realised for all and not just the majority