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The Gender Pay Gap - Has It Improved?

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I was attracted to Paula Bennett's talk to around 100 members of the Wellington HRINZ branch regarding the Gender Pay Gap because this is something I have never personally experienced. I'm not sure if it's because I've been a business owner for most of my life or whether in later years I have chosen a career path that is not discriminatory towards women.

This was Paula Bennett's first public speech since she was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. Her extensive ministerial portfolio includes Minister for Women, and it was in this role that she spoke from while delivering her speech.

The results of a University of Waikato study on "Empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand" (released on the day of the speech) were rather interesting. Despite significant progress on addressing the reasons identified in a study in 2003, the gender pay gap remains unchanged at 12%. Interestingly enough, they are only able to identify roughly 20% of the reasons why there is still a gender pay gap. Around 80% of the reasons cannot be explained.

Girls are now achieving at a slightly higher level than boys at school and this follows on into Tertiary Education, where around 60% of graduates are female. More females are going into traditionally male-dominated areas like science, maths, technology and engineering. So why does the gap remain?

Though they cannot definitively pinpoint anything specifically, there does appear to be an unconscious bias out there that favours male applicants for roles, particularly at a more senior level. One of the things they are encouraging is for there to be a better gender balance representation of applicants put forward to hiring managers. This doesn't mean that the hiring manager is expected to hire a female for the role, but it does mean that they are given a balanced pool of candidates and will be able to select the best candidate for the role from that pool.

It seems that we females are our own worst enemies when it comes to self-promotion. We're less likely to negotiate strongly regarding salary, pay-rises or promotion opportunities. Working in recruitment we often observe that females will want to fulfil 100% of what an ad or job description requires, whereas males will go with only fulfilling 60% of requirements. I encourage our female candidates to go for roles where they fulfil around 75% of the requirements. Often a position description is a wish list rather than a definitive list of the strengths they need for that particular role. If you think you are capable of delivering in that role, go for it. As Paula says, the question to ask ourselves is "Why not me?!"

The HR representatives attending the speech were asked to use their influence to headhunt women who might not otherwise put themselves forward so that they can be included in high-level interview processes. Organisations have been asked to do their own pay gap analysis and identify pay gap issues within their organisations. This is about to become mandatory across government organisations and private companies have been asked to voluntarily follow this lead.

Seeking out strong mentors among those women who have succeeded and risen in their career is highly recommended. Women who are successful are asked to help others by sharing their wisdom.

So, I came away from the speech with no definitive answer to the Gender Pay Gap question. I'll be interested to see what the next survey in another decade or so brings.