This is an updated version of an article first published in November 2017.
From Monday 28th November, the media says, working women in New Zealand are “in effect working for nothing” until the new year. For wāhine Māori and Pasifika women, it’s even worse.
Now you know as well as I do that it’s not quite as simple as that. If it were, perhaps we would close the pay gap a little faster than currently projected (2077). The gender pay gap is big and messy and complex, so let’s make it personal. Here’s my view on how it affects mums and future mums. After that I’ve listed 6 ways that you guys – our boyfriends, husbands, brothers, dads or friends – can help us put an end to it.
Laura is a university educated woman in her late twenties. She’s got a professional career, lives in a city, loves going out to pop-up restaurants and enjoys a cocktail or two with her gal friends.
Let’s dive straight in to the issue at hand. Compared to a guy doing the same job as her, Laura gets paid around 98 cents for every dollar that he gets, a difference so small that it barely merits a mention. In fact, some research suggests that single, childless urban twenty-something females like Laura are getting paid more than their male counterparts.
But one day, like most of her friends in their late twenties and early thirties, Laura and her boyfriend Rob plan to have a kid. Annoyingly for Laura, Rob’s Y chromosome gets him off the hook and she’s the one who’ll have to house and push out the bub in due course.
Why does that matter? Well, because as far as I can make out, becoming a parent is the key to the gender pay gap.
So here’s a controversial question for you. Why are we trying to argue with basic biology? Many mums want – and need – to take time out of work to look after their kids. It’s natural, good and healthy. It’s not something we can or should try to change. Right?
Biology aside, let’s zoom forward nine months and make a decision using pure logic. Laura and Rob are now the proud parents of baby Oliver.
Now 30, Laura earns a bit less than Rob, so it makes sense that he keeps bringing home the bacon while she takes extended parental leave to take care of Oliver. She’ll be out of the business loop for a while, perhaps putting off potential future employers and making it harder for her to find a new job. When she gets back to work it will take her a while to catch up and back in the groove. People may ask her about her baby, rather than her work. Her options might be limited, giving her less power when it comes to pay negotiations.
So let’s take a different approach. This time Laura goes back to work but cuts back her hours a bit to work around Oliver’s childcare. Oddly, though, she’s not paid proportionately less than she was in her full time role. When you look at her hourly wage, Laura is being penalised. Perhaps because there weren’t many part-time, flexible jobs available, Laura’s had to take what she can. Rob, meanwhile, can be more flexible, staying late if needed. Funnily enough, he is disproportionately rewarded for working longer hours.
Okay, let’s have one more try. This time we’ll assume that Laura and Rob are a pretty modern couple, comfortable with the idea of splitting childcare responsibilities equally. In this scenario they won’t be affected by the parenthood pay gap. Right?
After a brief, shared parental leave Laura and Rob both go back to work, sharing out the parenting of baby Oliver equally.
Laura’s salary mysteriously plateaus. By contrast, Rob gets a ‘new-daddy bonus’. What on earth is going on? Research around the world shows that unconscious bias (formerly known as ‘sexism’) is at play here.
Mothers? The perception is that they leave on the dot at five, they’re more distracted during the day, and they don’t work as hard. Fathers? Bosses reckon they stay late, they’re reliable and committed to the job. And that’s why new dads get, on average, a 6% bump up in salary the year their baby is born. Bosses might not even realise that this is what they’re doing. But this is what some of them are doing.
In New Zealand, the government’s own research says that as much as 80% of the pay gap is accounted for by this conscious and unconscious bias.
So let’s imagine that instead of sharing out the parenting equally, Laura and Rob decide to focus on Laura’s career. Rob picks up the slack, doing more than his half of housework and childcare. And one day Laura makes it.
She becomes one of the 2% of female CEOs at one of New Zealand’s top companies, and a board director to boot. Clearly she’s proven herself. She’s now got a university age son, and has managed to overcome the fact she spent eighteen weeks away from work two decades ago to keep her newborn alive. She has reached the highest level in business. Admittedly, there are still twice as many CEOs called David as there are women of any name. But surely now her salary is about the same as theirs?
What I find shocking is that the opposite is true. In her twenties Laura made around the same as a man in the same job as her. At exec level she now takes home a third less than him.
Why should you care?
Big picture, wage inequity is bad for your country’s economy and society. We’re missing out on so much by stacking the deck against women reaching the top and getting paid fairly.
Fundamentally, though, you should care because the fact that we still have a gender pay gap in 2022 just isn’t right.
6 Ways Men Can Help Close the Gender Pay Gap
I’m not claiming that it’s solely men’s responsibility to close the gap. But while there’s plenty out there about women having to lean in, men have a powerful role to play in shuffling that fixed deck of cards.
I don’t for a moment pretend to have all the answers. But I do have a few suggestions.
Ask for flexible working arrangements
Mums aren’t the only people who benefit from flexible working arrangements. Speaking from personal experience, my husband felt a big stress reduction when he worked a four day week for a while. My previous boss is a Crossfit addict who finishes at 4pm every day to train. Let’s make flexible working normal for men and women alike. Ask for it for yourself, and you’ll be nudging the workplace to be better for everyone.
Level the playing field with teamwork
Women tend to be less confident when it comes to applying for new jobs and negotiating on salary. So push your partner to apply for that stretch role and encourage her to decide what a job is worth and add 20% when starting salary negotiations. It’s part of being a strong team.
Check your prejudice
I have noticed my own unconscious bias popping up at times when I’ve seen mums struggling to juggle work and parenting, and even when I met a stay-at-home dad and felt an uncomfortable urge to say ‘well done’. Challenge your own beliefs if you find yourself thinking that people taking time away from work, flexible and part-time workers are less committed or ambitious.
Take parental leave
Men get an unfair deal when they become a dad, expected to head back to the office days after their life-changing miracle arrives. That’s not cool. If you’re in New Zealand, tweet and talk about the government shifting the language they use from ‘primary carer’s (paid) leave and partner’s (unpaid) leave’ to ‘shared parental leave’. Let’s make sure that the language we use normalises dads looking after their kids too. Use inclusive language – legally, it’s ‘parental leave’, not ‘maternity leave’, for example. Legislation aside: guys, take that time off work if you can afford it when baby comes along. You’ll never get that precious time again.
Be a coach
As you ascend the career ladder, consider who you could help along the way. Typically women aren’t offered sponsors or mentors as frequently as men, with ethnic minority women especially hard hit. How can you help redress this imbalance? Simple. Offer to coach someone you wouldn’t automatically consider reaching out to.
Get ready for retirement
Okay, maybe it’s wishful thinking that us millennials will ever get to retire. But just in case we do, be sure to have a grown-up conversation with your partner about pensions now, before you have kids. Chances are that if the mum’s the one taking time out to care for children, her retirement fund will take a hit. How, as a couple, will you ensure financial fairness in your old age?
- https://www.economist.com/news/international/21729993-women-still-earn-lot-less-men-despite-decades-equal-pay-laws-why-gender (Data from 25 countries collected by Korn Ferry, a consultancy, show that women earn 98% as much as men who do the same job for the same employer. )
- Hodges, M.J. and Budig, M.J., 2010. Who gets the daddy bonus? Organizational hegemonic masculinity and the impact of fatherhood on earnings. Gender & Society, 24(6), pp.717-745.
- Ministry for Women, March 2017. Empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand.
- https://www.payscale.com/data-packages/gender-pay-gap/job-level (Fewer women rise to leadership roles than men, and as they do, the gender pay gap increases, even when we control for compensable factors like job type, experience, education, etc.)