Suffrage Day: Bold Leaders Wanted, No Dodge of the Wage Gap Can Apply



OPINION: It’s suffrage day, and now I’m complaining again.

I don’t like having to do this. I am optimistic, and as patient as the next person – much would rather be dressed in white muslin, dancing around the pole celebrating Aotearoa New Zealand’s global progress in fairness and fairness, honest.

But this is simply not true.

We rely a lot on our past accomplishments in this country. They relate to our view of ourselves as a serious young nation that strikes above its weight on the world stage, yada yada.

* What has really changed for women?
* More women leaders as progress is made to reduce the gender pay gap in the public sector
* Equality at work is improving, but at an icy pace
* Survey shows more work is needed to support women’s careers

You can find examples in all aspects of life (but especially sports!)

The Kate Sheppard National Memorial honors the life of one of New Zealand's leading women's suffrage activists.

David Walker / Stuff

The Kate Sheppard National Memorial honors the life of one of New Zealand’s leading women’s suffrage activists.

Two in particular: we were the first country to “give” women the right to vote and, at one point, the five “big” positions – Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Governor General, Chief Justice and Attorney General – were all occupied by women.

Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark (left) arrives in Parliament for the swearing-in of Dame Sylvia Cartwright (right) as Governor General on April 4, 2001.

John Nicholson / Stuff

Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark (left) arrives in Parliament for the swearing-in of Dame Sylvia Cartwright (right) as Governor General on April 4, 2001.

These are not myths – they have happened. We can be proud that they did. But the first of them took place 128 years ago, the second 20 years ago. Excuse me for my impatience, but really, it’s about time we took off that pair of rose-colored glasses and took a proper look at the progress we haven’t made.

Let’s keep it simple and take just one example. Women still do not have pay equity with men. We are getting closer to equal pay, but that is something else. If this is a surprise to you, you are not alone and you are not gloomy. The two things seem similar, but they are different in an important way:

Equal pay means paying men and women the same amount for the same work (it does not have to be the same). For example, two salespeople with similar experience who do broadly similar work are paid the same regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or other markers of personal identity.

Pay equity adds a lot more to the equation – it examines why there are fewer women in high-paying jobs, why women (out of necessity or not) choose more flexible work options, and the biases in hiring and promotion practices, education and career advancement opportunity.

Case in point: When Westpac investigated his pay gap, he found no problem with equal pay within roles within the bank. But its overall pay gap was 30 percent, mainly because most of its women held lower-paying positions. The bank realized that in order to solve this problem, it needed to redouble its efforts to get women into senior IT and banking positions.

Solving this starts with paying attention. Sounds easy, eh? But there are still only a tiny handful of private sector companies actually doing this.

Simon Power is the interim CEO of Westpac.


Simon Power is the interim CEO of Westpac.

I think everyone I’ve talked to about this has used the same phrase: “What gets measured gets done. A survey by the Australian Center for Corporate Responsibility found that 80 percent of companies that had thoroughly analyzed their gender pay gap, continued to do something about it. When it comes to the pay gap, some companies may just be blind to their flaws because they haven’t looked well.

I read the 2021 annual reports of the top 10 companies in the NZX50 (you are welcome) and followed up with them to see how much attention our top performers pay to this stuff.

Only three of them – Spark, Fletcher Building and Auckland Airport – were confirmed ‘yes’ for a full company-wide pay gap analysis. Others, such as Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Meridian and Contact Energy, pay in similar roles, but not according to their company-wide pay gaps. F&P Healthcare told me this was a conscious decision “because we think it doesn’t provide a lot of useful information given the makeup of our workforce.”

Spark President Justine Smyth (left) and CEO Jolie Hodson.

Supplied / Supplied

Spark President Justine Smyth (left) and CEO Jolie Hodson.

Mainfreight, Ryman Healthcare, Infratil and EBOS did not respond. While some paid particular attention to gender balance in board and management roles, none included figures on the pay gap.

There are companies further down the NZX50 list that have joined Spark and Fletcher Building in leading the way; Genesis Energy, Westpac and SkyCity were all the first to adopt voluntary reporting.

It seems to be a question of leadership. Strong, enlightened leaders – leaders who are ready to stand up and do what is right in this space – are ready to show themselves in the shelter.

One of them is SkyCity CEO Rob Campbell. I asked, what is the roadblock for the most part?

“I know there are a lot of people with real goodwill in business who aren’t comfortable with the gender pay gap, but they find it hard to speak up because they think it will affect their careers, ”Campbell told me.

SkyCity CEO Rob Campbell says it's important for business leaders to speak out on the pay gap.


SkyCity CEO Rob Campbell says it’s important for business leaders to speak out on the pay gap.

“It’s easier for an old fool [like me] to tell them. I find that when I take a stand on certain social issues, there are a tremendous number of people – directors, managers and employees – who say: “Thank you for saying that, I wish I could say it”. It’s sad.

“There is all the more responsibility on you when you have a leadership position. “

Rob Campbell is a bit desperate about attitudes towards the wage gap in this country.

“The Maori or Pacific Islander housekeeper doesn’t earn a huge amount of the country’s top three or four positions as women, do she? Compensation is so important for full participation in society. And isn’t it ironic that [pay gaps] persist even when we officially label many of these low-wage people as essential. “

While Campbell is at the “big end of town,” Wyndi Tagi (Ati-Hau-Nui-A-Paparangi), co-founder of WE Accounting, works at the other end. Most of her clients are small and medium-sized businesses, and most are Maori and Pasifika businesses – a choice she and her partner Eli Tagi made four years ago. WE is a finalist for Westpac’s 2021 Employer of the Year Awards.

Wyndhi Tagi (center, dressed in red) at the Xero Awards 2020 with staff from WE Accounting, which won the “Advisory Partner of the Year” award.


Wyndhi Tagi (center, dressed in red) at the Xero Awards 2020 with staff from WE Accounting, who won the “Advisory Partner of the Year” award.

Tagi encourages her own staff to challenge her over pay in “mana improvement” negotiations. She pays attention to payroll issues because she says it’s good business and good for the economy – it improves team culture and helps attract and retain staff; a very important factor with the current talent shortage.

Tagi agrees with Campbell that there is reluctance among executives who do not want to stand out “because they might upset their shareholders, or just their friends. Not enough Pākeha men, let’s face it, have stood up for this. Once they do, people will follow.

Now, 128 years after Aoteaora’s defining moment for women, proponents of the pay gap reporting might want to consider this: there are some bold leaders among you who have willingly done this job and guess what? The sky has not fallen.


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