Monday, 12 November 2012

The stubborn gender gap - the Market is not providing

Bad news on the gender pay gap today, as reported in the NZ Herald:

The gender pay gap is the biggest it has been in 10 years, according to new data from Statistic New Zealand.

The quarterly employment survey shows the gender gap has increased in the year to September by 1.3 per cent, from 12.85 per cent to 14.18 per cent.

Pay Equity Challenge Coalition said it was the biggest gap it had seen in a decade.
Contrary to the delightful picture the Herald have chosen to illustrate their story (a white man and a white woman, both in suits, arm-wrestling) the gender pay gap is not a zero sum game, where men will lose out if women gain, and it is also not predominantly the concern of those in the higher paid roles where suit-wearing is expected.  In March 2009 I wrote a longish post about what I see are the reasons for the gender pay gap.  I'm not going to rehash that again here, because I agree with our guest poster from March 2010, Rebecca Matthews, who wrote then:

It seems to me that there are too many people, and particularly in this government, who use further research and analysis as a shield to hide behind, because they actually don’t view the gender pay gap as a problem and don’t want to commit to doing anything about it..
The only people who have ever made real progress towards pay equity for women, or indeed for other group disadvantaged by not being older middle-class or above white men who appear straight, have been workers' groups and movements led by those who deserve the improvements.  Employers do not magnanimously pass on fair pay, they only do it when they are forced to.  This is why we have a minimum wage; because otherwise employers would pay some people below it and as a society we have decided that is not fair. Some employers are fair, that's true, but they don't appear to be the majority, and the Market doesn't encourage that behaviour.

In other areas we have significant gender gaps too - particularly in political representation of women and appointments to boards.  Talk about quotas has been slowly building for some years, in response to the inability of political parties and organisations to deal with it voluntarily and effectively.  I used to be pretty anti-quota; I thought that it would undermine those women appointed or elected.  But, having heard from Judy McGregor on the topic, I've changed my mind. 

It is not as if there is a shortage of women who would be good in senior roles, on boards, as political decision-makers.  Indeed there is some contention that more women on the boards of major financial institutions may have meant we didn't end up with all that global financial meltdown stuff.  Without a TARDIS, I don't feel I can say for sure.

The shortage is instead in the area of those willing to appoint women.  And if they won't start doing it, despite all the evidence of the value of diversity at the decision-making level, and decades of working to change attitudes, then maybe it is time to regulate.


ChundaMars said...

Wait, how do we reconcile this story with one from last month:

Both surveys come from Statistics NZ, yet one shows the pay gap the lowest it has been since 1997, and the other saying the highest it has been in 10 years. Lies, damn lies, and statistics right?

At least they use a better set of comparisons (average hourly earnings) than some other income surveys, so no arguments on that front.

It would be interesting to know how much the Canterbury rebuild will skew the figures over the next while - after all, construction is a very male-dominated profession and there is a high demand for skilled people coming through.

Solving the pay gap requires a great change in culture though - as mentioned in your linked post from 2009, one great difference is the time women take off to have children, and then the sacrifices they make (not working as much overtime etc.) while they have children too. We'll need it to become possible for men to take maternity leave, and much more socially acceptable for men to take time off work, stay at home etc. etc. before the pay gap ever closes.

I look forward to the day it happens, but it's going to take a while!

Julie said...

I missed that October one at the time, thanks for the link. The October story looks at the 12 monthly income survey, whereas the November one I mentioned examines the quarterly employment survey. What the difference is between these two measures I am not sure! Have asked a stats person of my acquaintance and will share if I can.

In terms of the sharing of parenting (and other unpaid caring work) I think there has been gradual improvement over the years and I imagine this will continue. One of the main reasons I support the extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks is that it will become a more realistic option, given that length of time, for partners to share it between them, which should hopefully mean more fathers feel they can take time off for parenting. Currently they can, legally, but it is unpaid and the social pressures aren't in favour of doing so. My own partner took 6 months off, after I had the first 9 months off (this required agreement of his employer as it meant our combined parental leave was more than the statutory protected 12 months). Friends of mine took 6 months each. Change is happening, but it's pretty slow.

katy said...

Re: parental leave, it will be great too when it becomes normal to take longer periods. Australian friends of mine are currently into the second year of doing a year each. Not particularly radical there but I feel like this would be considered extravagant and/or irresponsible in many workplaces here.

Re: gender pay gap, good point about the struggle being led from within the unions etc. The gender pay gap is generally wider in the private sector where workers do not tend to organise collectively to the same extent as in the public sector. So it will be necessary for all unions to take this up.