Genter on gender pay gap and sexual harassment

One of the aims of new Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter is to close the gender pay gap.

“Well, the gender pay gap still exists, and it’s particularly bad for women of colour – Maori and Pacific women, it’s incredibly high. It’s over 20%. For women on average, it’s close to 10%. We were making progress, and for the last decade, it’s stagnated. And I think there’s a real opportunity with a new government to take a much more effective approach.”

She also hopes the US Weinstein scandal will encourage more victims of sexual harassment in New Zealand to speak out.

‘I certainly hope so, and the ‘me too’ hashtag was used in New Zealand. I think many people would have been very surprised and saddened to see just how common it is for women – and people.’

Interview transcript from Q + A:

Interviewed by Jessica Mutch

JESSICA Julie Anne Genter joins me now. She is the new minister for women. Congratulations on your new role.

JULIE ANNE Thank you.

JESSICA I want to start off asking you ¬– you label yourself as a feminist. What does that mean to you?

JULIE ANNE To me, it just means that women are equal to men and should be treated as such. Historically, we’ve had a whole lot of unconscious bias at play, which has created invisible barriers for women, and particularly women of colour, and so we need to, as a society, recognise that’s been the case and have systems and policies in place to correct that.

JESSICA I want to talk to you first about sexual harassment. There’s been a lot of attention on this globally with Harvey Weinstein and this hashtag ‘me too’. Do you think that will encourage women to come forward globally and also perhaps in New Zealand as well?

JULIE ANNE I certainly hope so, and the ‘me too’ hashtag was used in New Zealand. I think many people would have been very surprised and saddened to see just how common it is for women – and people. It wasn’t just women to experience some form of sexual harassment or violence, and talking about it is probably the first step to us really starting to address it. The Harvey Weinstein case in the United States has been really interesting and unprecedented in that, I think, it’s gotten more traction because the women who were his victims have power in their own right. They’re celebrities. And so the fact they’ve come forward with that has gotten more attention, and I think we need to recognise that sexual harassment is really about power, not sex, and that many women will not, have not been, in a position where they’ve been able to speak openly about it, particularly if the person who is their harasser has power over them in the workplace.

JESSICA Do you think it is a problem in New Zealand as well, and if so, why are more people not coming forward?

JULIE ANNE Absolutely, it will have been a problem in New Zealand, and you could see that even in Parliament a few years ago. Some of my colleagues very bravely spoke out about being victims of sexual violence, and I was even shocked at how widespread it was for women in parliament. And I think the reason that it hasn’t been addressed is because of this power issue, where so often women in more vulnerable situations, if they do bring their complaint, they might be treated with suspicious or they might not be believed, and so what we need to do is ensure that there are clear policies and safe pathways for women and any person experiencing sexual harassment to make a complaint, to address the situation, and, you know, under our legislation in New Zealand, employers have an obligation to ensure that their employees and their customers are free from sexual harassment, and we have two different pathways for making a complaint – one under the employment relations act, one under the human rights act. And the Human Rights Commission in particular is a great place to go and ask for advice, if anyone out there is experiencing sexual harassment and wants to find out what their options are for making a complaint.

JESSICA Because the British prime minister, Theresa May, recently has come out and said, ‘Look, in Parliament, we need to have a set of guidelines,’ because of all of the scandals that have come out there. Do we need to have that in the New Zealand parliament as well? What’s been your experience?

JULIE ANNE We do have a policy in our parliament. Perhaps we could more proactively advertise that and ensure that employees working in Parliament understand their rights, and of course, employers and all of us as parliamentarians, other people who are working as managers in Parliament need to understand your obligations and responsibilities to ensure that people feel safe. I mean, that’s what this is about. It’s people need to feel safe and comfortable, and they have a right to live without feeling that they’re being harassed.

JESSICA What has been your experience about the culture in Parliament?

JULIE ANNE Well, I think that it’s unfortunate that we haven’t yet got equal representation of women in Parliament. I think that changes–

JESSICA It’s only 38%,

JULIE ANNE Yeah, and 38% is better than what it has been. It has been closer to 30% for the last few terms. So we’ve gotten up closer to 40%. My experience in the Green party has been fantastic, because the Green party has since its inception had very clear policies aimed at encouraging female representation and female leadership, and we’ve proven that that’s a success. I mean 75% of our caucus now is female, and they’re incredible competent, capable women. I think we have to recognise that if you don’t have clear policies like that, you will not get equal representation. And I know there are women who think, ‘I don’t want to be there just because I am a women; I want to be there because of merit.’ The reality is because of unconscious bias, women are not represented just because they are women. Unless we have those specific policies in place to improve representation, it’s not going to happen.

JESSICA Have you experienced that bias personally on your journey to Parliament?

JULIE ANNE So, it’s interesting for me, because I worked in incredibly male-dominated fields, so I was a transport consultant. I worked at a company, I was the only female transport consultant in my office. I did have that experience of finding out that some of my male colleagues who were, you know, perhaps not quite as effective as I was, were being paid significantly more than me, and that was quite a surprise. Even though the men around me and the managers, they really did want to encourage me, this still happened. Being the only women finance spokesperson and the only women on the finance and expenditure committee. What I noticed about that is that it’s really important that women are, and particularly women of colour, involved in the decisions and policy at that high level, whether it’s finance and economics or transport. The decisions that get made around those policies affect women’s everyday life. And women have a very different experience – and children – in the city, and we have the ability to ensure that they are safe, that they have equal access and opportunity, that they are paid fairly for their work. And that’s what we need to achieve if we want a fair and successful society.

JESSICA Because that’s one of your coalition agreements. You want to be able to get rid of the gender pay gap in the public sector. You’d like to lessen that, and that’s one of the things that you want to be judged by. We’ve got a female prime minister. We’ve got a female governor general. But only one New Zealand woman is leading a NZX50 company. What does that say about us and the gender pay gap, do you think?

JULIE ANNE Well, the gender pay gap still exists, and it’s particularly bad for women of colour – Maori and Pacific women, it’s incredibly high. It’s over 20%. For women on average, it’s close to 10%. And I think that it’s been stagnating, and so we made progress on it. You know, we started, say, 20 years ago. We were making progress, and for the last decade, it’s stagnated. And I think there’s a real opportunity with a new government to take a much more effective approach that will finally close that last bit of the gap, but it takes some willingness to accept the evidence around what is going to be an effective policy, and so we’ll start by leading. You know, state services, we’re going to try– We are going to close the gender pay gap in the core public service.

JESSICA How long?

JULIE ANNE I think we can do that within four years, and I think we should be aiming to do it as quickly as possible.

JESSICA How will you do that, though?

JULIE ANNE You make the chief executives of government agencies accountable, put it in their KPIs. We know that there are a whole lot of policies and steps and systems that can be taken to close the gender pay gap, and we just need to push those levers a little bit harder.

JESSICA Isn’t it more important, though, that women are judged on their ability, rather than forcing people to even things out like that? Or is it just not happening by itself?

JULIE ANNE Well, we know 80% of the gap that currently exists is due to what are called unexplained factors. And so a lot of that is things like unconscious bias. And some other policies that this government will also address, like paid parental leave, flexible working hours. All of those contribute to the pay gap, and we can do something about it, and we will.

JESSICA What about a quota for women on boards?

JULIE ANNE I think that– I mean, I personally am passionate about at least leading the conversation about how quotas are effective and they work.

JESSICA Do you think that we should implement them?

JULIE ANNE I think that we need to have a debate and a discussion about it? And I think that, you know, the Green party–

JESSICA What’s your view, though?

JULIE ANNE The Green party is just an example of how– We don’t call it a quota, but we say we’re going to have co-leaders – a female leader and a male leader, we’re going to aim for a gender- balanced approach to our list. And that encourages women to step up and put themselves forward, and then what we found in the last election is that women were dominating our top 10, because they’re capable. So we just need to recognise that the reason that women aren’t there is because they’re women, not because they’re not capable and competent. And so we need those systems and policies that are very deliberate to reverse this, and I know that in New Zealand, the NZX has recently implemented a diversity policy, and it will be really interesting to see if that does make a difference, so they have to account for diversity. They have to give a clear policy. And if they don’t make progress in that area, then they’re going to be held accountable.

JESSICA I just want to be clear, though. Do you support a quota for women on boards personally? Do you think it’s the best way to go?

JULIE ANNE I know that overseas, in some countries, it’s been incredibly effective. And some countries, while they’ve had requirement around quotas, they’re not meeting their targets. So I think that we’ll start with a conversation, and any legislative requirement would require getting buy-in from our partners in government, so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to build the political support.

JESSICA So yes from you?

JULIE ANNE Yes, I think that there’s evidence that it’s effective, and if we can’t achieve it otherwise, then I think that we should be exploring it.

JESSICA All right, we’ll have to leave it there, but thank you very much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.

Sexual harassment certainly needs to be exposed and dealt with better, but care needs to be taken to allow for justice to take it’s course, to not get too ‘PC’ about it, and to not alienate peeople (particularly men) who generally support confronting and reducing sexual harassment.

Watch the interview here.


Gender pay gap – real but not all discrimination

A sensible and balanced view on the gender pay gap and the reaction to a report on it last week from Dr Rachel Hodder : THE GENDER PAY GAP IS NO MYTH, BUT NOR IS IT ALL DISCRIMINATION

Whenever controversial issues are debated, the loudest voices are often the least informed.

The quickest and loudest are often poorly informed.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the gender pay gap debate.

Last week, the Ministry of Women released an excellent report examining gender pay differences in New Zealand. The reception of the report was disappointing, but not surprising. It would seem that many of those arguing about the report had either not read it or not understood it.

The proponents lauded the report as undeniable evidence that women are paid 10% less than men purely because of discrimination. On the other side, critics rushed to rubbish the paper claiming the pay gap is a myth and only exists when researchers fail to account for obvious differences.

Both sides are wrong, but both also contain a nugget of truth. This report does provide strong evidence that the gender pay gap is indeed real. However, the report does shed light on factors beyond discrimination that may explain the gap.

With pay discrepancies there are always going to be multiple factors.

The critics pointed out that there are important factors that can account for wage differences. Personal characteristics, household characteristics, age, education, occupation, and industry will all matter in how much someone gets paid regardless of gender. Without accounting for any choice or circumstance factors, the average woman gets paid 12% less than the average man.

The authors know this too and so they controlled for these factors. The pay gap persisted. They showed that a woman will get paid 10% less than a man with the same age, ethnicity, education, occupation, industry, marital status, number of kids, full time status, etc.

That 10% is called the ‘unexplained’ component of the wage gap. This is not a failure of the model, as some critics claimed. Nor is it necessarily all caused by workplace biases, as some proponents claimed.

Women are also more likely than men to choose child care over advancing their careers (and earnings), at least temporarily.

What that 10% represents is the difference in pay that men receive when they have the same identifiable characteristics as women. The 10% can then be broken down into the different factors that affect men and women’s pay differently.

The pay gap is not caused by women choosing lower paying careers. The authors controlled for that. There is still a gap.

There may still be important differences within occupations and industries that the study cannot observe. Surgeons are paid more than paediatricians but in the data they will both be counted as professionals in the health care sector.

However, the study showed that women actually receive slightly higher returns to industry and occupation choice than men. In other words, the wage gap looks bigger, not smaller, once you control for these factors.


The report proponents did miss some of the important details too.

First, the paper clearly demonstrates that there is no pay gap at the bottom end of the income distribution. If anything there appears to be a slight bias in the opposite direction, particularly for younger women.

So females start at least as well off.

Moving up the distribution, the gap increases and less can be explained by observable factors. Which would seem to point towards a glass ceiling effect. Women have roughly equal opportunities at the early stages of their careers but face a tougher climb up to the top of the ladder. However, the glass ceiling is not entirely imposed by sexism.

A separate report released by Statistics New Zealand showed that the gender pay gap is much larger for parents compared to non-parents. This report confirms that differing pay effects from household characteristics explains about half the pay gap. For better or worse, mothers are much more likely to spend time out of the workforce for child-rearing than fathers. This can have a dramatic effect on career advancement.

Women are more likely than men to choose to take time out from their careers.

The biggest factor that affected the pay gap was the difference in pay as it relates to age. Older men get paid much more than older women. This could partly be explained by the same motherhood penalty that may have enduring effects throughout a woman’s career.

It may also be picking up cohort effects. Sexist attitudes from decades ago will have enduring effects on the income distribution.

As more women get into management and salary and promotion deciding positions sexist bias should diminish – unless women tend to be biased too.

As society gets more progressive these effects should diminish.

The critics claiming the pay gap is a myth should pay more attention to quality research in the area. There is a wealth of research demonstrating unconscious bias against women. It would be absurd to suggest that discrimination does not cause some of the pay gap.

However, accepting that such discrimination exists does not mean accepting all the proposed policy solutions. Both sides seem to miss this crucial point. There is nothing inconsistent with acknowledging a pay gap but disagreeing that Government must fix it. Some policy cures can be worse than the disease.

The best way to address the gender pay gap will be determined by informed, rational analysis. Something not offered by those who don’t bother to read the research before commenting.

It takes time to get informed comment from people who take the time to read reports properly rather than react to headlines. By the time that happens most vocal critics are likely to have moved on to other issues.