YWCA puts gender in legal tender, but do pay gap stats give an accurate reflection of Kiwi society?

In an open letter sent to Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler, YWCA Auckland is calling for Kiwi suffragette Kate Sheppard’s image to be removed from the ten-dollar note and replaced with that of a man.

This request, which comes as part of a new campaign developed by DDB, aims to draw attention to the fact that a woman remembered for fighting for equality would not be pleased to have her face on the note at a time when for every ten dollars men earn, women only earn nine. 
In order to illustrate the gravity of this fact, DDB has also produced a range of nine-dollar notes, which are said to more accurately reflect the position Kiwi women find themselves in. 

The latest campaign serves as a continuation of the theme established last year, when YWCA developed an experiential campaign that saw men charged ten percent more than women for a range of products.

“By reintroducing the late, great Kate Sheppard to Kiwis in this new light, we’re hoping people will look at the issue through a broader lens as we ask them to consider whether we can still call ourselves a socially progressive nation, given the impact this issue is having on our society,” says Sina Wendt-Moore, the co-president of YWCA.

And although YWCA says the problem affects the entire country, the organisation does not apply a blanket of condemnation across all the businesses active in the market. In July, the not-for-profit hosted the inaugural YWCA Equal Pay Awards to commend companies that have made a significant commitment to eradicating pay discrimination. At the event, first place was awarded to Westpac in recognition of the practices it had put in place. But the red bank isn’t the only one committed to this cause.

Last year, prior to the launch of the YWCA campaign, Barbara Chapman, the chief executive of ASB had this to say to Idealog about how slowly change was taking place in the New Zealand market:

“It’s been 30 years since it was illegal to pay women different amounts than men and we still have a gender pay gap of around ten percent, and on the current run rate, it’s going to take another 30 years before that gets closed. Which means 60 years after the legislation was enacted, it will have taken effect. What other piece of legislation sits around for 60 years before it actually comes to life?”

This trend of inequality was again evidenced with the publication of the 2013 New Zealand Income Survey report (released in June), which showed that the average full-time hourly earnings for a man was $28.33, while the average rate for women was only $25.06 (a 13 percent difference). The figures have sparked a national debate, which has included articles by both the Herald and Stuff. And it also looks as though it might extend into the political arena in the lead up to the election, with the Green Party placing policy emphasis on the importance of reducing the gender pay gap. 

The introduction of the debate to politics isn’t unique to New Zealand. In the lead up to the American election, Obama released a campaign ad based on the premise that American women earned 77 cents to the dollar earned by American men.

And while such statistical findings make for powerful rhetoric when released from the Senate podium, they are sometimes misconstrued to favour a partisan leaning. 

In a column written for The Listener, Thomas Lumley, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Auckland, identifies the genesis of the 77 cents reference and also shows how something similar is being applied in the Kiwi context.

“The ratio is for the median annual earnings of women and men employed full-time,” he says in the article published in February earlier this year. “More commonly, you see the ratio of median weekly earnings for women and men employed full-time, which for the US is slightly higher, at 81 percent. New Zealand has one of the highest ratios in the world, but it’s still under 90 percent.”

He then provides the following four reasons why these average weekly earnings could potentially be lower for men, saying that the statistical gap could be down to: “straightforward differences in pay for the same job; differences in promotion or other opportunities for equally qualified candidates; women on average spend more time caring for children (and other relatives); and women tend to do jobs that don’t pay as well.”

If these factors are taken into account, then it doesn’t become so much a case that men are paid more for doing exactly the same jobs but rather that women and men are paid different amounts for doing different kinds of jobs. It is also significant to note that women are more likely to be drawn to care-giving jobs (such as nursing and welfare), which tend to pay less on average.

Rather than using the median figure, Wendt-Moore says that YWCA has instead decided to rely on the average hourly income for its campaign.   

“We believe it is a more accurate way to assess the difference in the pay gap (than median) because it allows for the fact that more women work part-time and there are more men in the higher income brackets (which the median doesn’t account for),” she says. 

Chris Triggs, the head of the statistics department at the University of Auckland, says that a comparison of the average full-time hourly earnings in the Statistics NZ survey is “a reasonable step” in the sense that it does “i) compare apples with apples and ii) it uses readily available data,” but he warns that there are also some challenges in this methodology.

“The difficulty in all the data sources on earnings is first measuring, and then correcting for, the time women spend out of the (full-time) work-force, having and raising children,” says Triggs. “Ideally…  [what you need]is some measure of ‘time on task’ – comparing men and women, not of the same calendar age, but with the same length of working career. You need someone with wider knowledge of official statistics than me to comment on how this might be measured. An argument against this measure is the lifetime cumulative effect. Even if a woman aged 65 earns the same as a man aged 60 in the same occupation, because she took five years out to have and look after her children, over her entire working life she will earn less than the man to whom she is being compared in the current snapshot.”    

However, the YWCA’s Wendt-Moore rejects this notion and points to additional research that she says debunks the idea women earn less due to having to leave the workforce. 

“Evidence shows that actually gender pay gaps are forming in the first five years of employment right from graduate level,” she says. “For instance, the NZ Institute of Chartered Accountants surveyed its own sector to discover male chartered accountants with five years experience or less earn $3605 more than their female counterparts – debunking the myth that pay gaps only emerge when women start families.”

And she says that there is evidence of this type of inequality across the private sector—a problem she cites as one of the reasons why the YWCA Equal Pay Awards were introduced.  

“Organisations across private and public sector are addressing issues of gender pay gaps,” she says. “These pay gaps just continue to develop when women take maternity leave – women miss out on annual pay reviews so when they come back to work they are financially disadvantaged compared to their male colleagues. Progressive organisations are tackling this in order to ensure pay gaps don’t form at this stage of a woman’s career.”

In this regard, Wendt-Moore makes an important point. The very fact that “progressive organisations” are taking steps to close the gender gap indicates that there are still ongoing problems. And she says that it isn’t only the employers that are complicit in the perpetuation of this system. 

“There is a genuine ignorance about the issue, and so subsequently has been very little action to dealing with it. There is unconscious gender bias built into workplaces – in the way they recruit, employ and performance manage people. Women themselves play a role because they are reluctant negotiators – lifelong socialization can discourage women from ‘un-female’ behaviours, such as assertiveness, self promotion and negotiation.” 

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has called for a similar change through the ‘Ban Bossy’ campaign, which was recently launched as part of the Lean In initiative.


In this sense, the point of the new YWCA campaign is not so much about the pinpoint statistical accuracy of the 10 percent reference (which is actually below the 13 percent illustrated in the Income Survey Report), but rather to encourage Kiwis—especially employers—to take an introspective look and effect the necessary changes in order to ensure that age-old notions of gender roles don’t have an impact on what constitutes fair pay. And this battle won’t be won until equal pay policies are normalised to the extent that the “progressive organisations” are simply viewed as “organisations.”


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