Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

NZ: A top place to be a woman

Survey shows we're at No 1 for educational attainment but 'unconscious bias' in workplace still happens

Labour Party MP Jacinda Ardern says we still need to keep an eye on the domestic gender pay gap. Photo / David White
Labour Party MP Jacinda Ardern says we still need to keep an eye on the domestic gender pay gap. Photo / David White

New Zealand is among the top 10 best places to be a woman, according to a worldwide report on gender equality.

It ranked seventh out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index 2013, with narrow gaps between the sexes in the health, education, economic and political sectors.

New Zealand was at number one - equal with several European countries - for educational attainment, which included literacy rates and enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Minister of Women's Affairs Jo Goodhew said the results were heartening but there was still a gender gap in some industries which was "unacceptable".

"Our girls are much more qualified than they used to be when they leave school, and coming out of university. But there's still unconscious bias in the workplace, which really gets in the way of career progression and leadership pathways."

For political empowerment, New Zealand ranked 12th. That included a sub-heading on women in Parliament - where we ranked 25th - with 68 per cent of politicians male and 32 per cent women.

The country was 15th under the economic participation and opportunity heading, which included labour force participation, wage equality, the balance of senior officials and managers as well as professional and technical workers.

New Zealand ranked 98th on the list for healthy life expectancy because women were outliving men by an average of only two years - 74 versus 72.

The country had moved down one place overall from last year as the Philippines jumped up.

Four Nordic countries at the top have consistently held those positions. Iceland is in the top spot for the fifth consecutive year and had the narrowest gender gap in the world.

The annual report, which started in 2006, is the result of collaboration with Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Ms Goodhew said men in New Zealand were four times more likely than women to ask for a pay rise, and that needed to change.

A recent survey showed women earn between $8000 and $20,000 less than their male colleagues in some New Zealand industries - despite being more qualified. Women starting out in the accountancy industry earned on average $10,000 less than male counterparts.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said she had still encountered some sexism during her campaign.

"When I was campaigning in 2010, some people asked me, 'Do you think Wellington really wants a third woman as mayor?"'

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern said: "When compared with other nations, when it comes to things like access to education, you would certainly hope that we would be ranking highly.

"But that is no reason for complacency and we have to constantly keep an eye on how things are improving domestically, even if we're on the improve relative to other countries, particularly when it comes to the gender pay gap."

Sandy Pasley, principal of all-girls school Baradene College of the Sacred Heart, in Remuera, said: "It's important for our girls to know that they can do anything if they want to ... Whatever they choose, they can be successful at."

Lesley Whyte, of Women on Boards, said that there was "still a long way to go before we get greater equality".

Just 14 per cent of directors of the top 100 NZX companies were women.

- NZ Herald

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