New Zealand has a proud history of social emancipation. We pride ourselves on being socially progressive and fair. We have moved away from affirmative action in an explicit form, but now face challenges to these deeply held perceptions of us as a nation.

With the gender pay gap stubbornly holding at 14 per cent, based on average fulltime hourly earnings, the majority of which cannot be simply explained away by 'performance' or 'choice' issues, and with legal challenges around pay equity springing up from many different quarters, there is a tsunami heading to the tranquil shores of New Zealand.

Having established the YWCA Equal Pay Awards for New Zealand in 2014, I have had the privilege of reading some confidential, sensitive and disarmingly honest information from entrants who are leading the way in changing business cultures, stereotypes, biases and practices to ensure that credible, quality female candidates for jobs, promotions and pay rises are treated fairly and move towards a more equitable payment and placement in relation to their male counterparts.

At the YWCA Auckland, we intentionally positioned the awards as a business-friendly initiative, as we were working with some leading proponents of equal pay in the corporate world who strongly believe there are some great business practices happening but not spoken about enough. If we can get these businesses and organisations to step forward and make a noise about their efforts in this space, others can see some simple steps to get on the equal pay journey and better understand the benefits that ensue by taking a purposeful look into this area. Because that is what it's all about. Starting the journey and navigating the way forward to ensure things don't go off course.

This year's winners are a case in point. These organisations are rigorously implementing gender-inclusive strategies and initiatives across every aspect of their business, fixing the pay gap and then future-proofing for long-term success. Supreme winners, ANZ, left no stone unturned, tackling the issue from recruitment to managing talent pipelines, offering robust parental leave packages, introducing a flexible workplace environment ... the list goes on, and all the entries presented similar policies and strategies, albeit at different levels.

Advertisement

New Zealand businesses can now see the massive wave of litigation hitting the shore on this very issue. Progressive businesses know that by addressing the gender pay gap and surrounding issues, they will, and do, have a competitive advantage.

Our second annual awards were held earlier this month. The room was brimming with pride and enthusiasm and it became clear a prominent, committed business community is forming around this issue. There was a genuine buzz as like-minded organisations got together to celebrate successes and acknowledge that more work needs to be done, with a growing sense of urgency.

This was music to my ears, as I see highly qualified millennials leaving university at better qualified rates than ever before. To know that at least a small percentage of them will arrive in organisations who will treat them fairly with regards to pay and opportunities for advancement is heartening.

However, more needs to be done. The landscape is changing in New Zealand. Just look at the current pay equity cases before the judicial system, the demographic curve changing and recorded rates of tertiary-qualified women, higher than ever before.

There is an imperative for businesses to respond quickly to rapidly changing conditions and thereby employ diversity of thinking, lived experience and styles of engagement. The message is very clear: Get ahead of the wave, do the right thing by your business and by society, and ensure you get on the equal pay journey before you are washed away on the tide.

Monica Briggs is chief executive of YWCA Auckland.

• The winners of the YWCA Equal Pay Awards 2015, were ANZ Bank (supreme winner); IAG (gold champions); Bell Gully and the Education Review Office (silver distinguished trophies), New Zealand Defence Force (bronze emerging trophy).