Patricia Arquette’s impassioned Oscars acceptance speech on gender equality put the spotlight again on the importance of equal pay for men and women. She stated, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Looking to our own situation, population statistics predict that in 15 years, more than half of New Zealand’s population will be over 40 years old. An ageing population, improved longevity, reduced fertility and an expected negative net migration means if we want to sustain our economy we’ll need to make use of everyone who can and is willing to work. Equal participation of women in the labour market is essential to the future of our workforce.
The good news is more women are in paid employment than ever before, growing by more than a half over the past three decades. Sixty per cent of New Zealand women (compared to seventy one per cent of New Zealand men) are in paid work, a rate that is higher than the OECD average. However, women still earn less than men and are more likely to work part time due to childcare responsibilities. Subsequently, when women reach retirement our financial health lags far behind men.
A 2011 Goldman Sachs report stated that New Zealand could boost its GDP by 10% if it maximised the working potential of women. Women contribute unique skills to the workforce, are more risk adverse, better at short term planning and have higher attention to detail than men. On average our relationship skills are stronger, we’re better at customer service and often more astute with budgeting.
The gender pay gap is in part, a reflection of the segregation in the labour market where women are over represented in lower paid work (often part time and insecure) and under-represented in higher paid jobs. The median hourly pay gender gap has largely plateaued at 10% for the last 5 years. While there seems to be a lot of focus to move women into more senior and higher paying roles, there’s a very strong argument to pay greater attention to the needs of women in lower paid jobs too.
The Human Rights Commission’s report on the aged care sector Caring Counts highlighted that the work of women in lower paid jobs – such as caring – has been under-valued for years. We need to be start valuing those women and their work more than we do. Businesses need flexible work policies that are family friendly. There’s a lot of work to do.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Make It Happen”. The challenge to New Zealand employers is exactly that: it’s time to make it happen.
The Human Rights Commission undertook to create a monitoring framework on pay and employment equity for women. Read more about it here.