A top insurance executive says what people are paid should have nothing to do with their gender.

Nikki Howell, head of people and capability at AA Insurance, says making sure men and women receive the same money for the same roles isn't hard - it just requires a system to ensure there are checks in place.

At AA Insurance staff pay rates are benchmarked twice a year against both insurance roles and the market as a whole.

And it has paid off.


Of its 680 staff 80 per cent of the comparable roles have a less than 3 per cent difference between what men and women are paid.

Of the remaining 20 per cent there is a gap of less than 5 per cent.

That compares to Statistics New Zealand figures which show across the workforce the pay gap between men and women is currently around 12 per cent.

Howell says there will always be some variations.

"I don't think we can ever have 100 per cent on any one day. But we are constantly checking it."

The company has also managed to achieve gender diversity across both its senior and middle management.

Of its six member executive team half are women and of its 42 management staff 55 per cent are female.

Howell says all of this has been achieved without quotas.


Instead the company has focused on finding the right person for the role and bringing staff up through the ranks internally.

"All but one of our executives have been promoted from within the company. We actively move people around portfolios within our safety net."

But it hasn't always been that way.

"Once upon a time we had serious gaps. We didn't have the breadth and depth."

That was particularly at the middle-management level, she says.

Often it can be difficult to retain women in middle management as they take time out to have families.


She says the company makes an effort to keep in touch when people go on parental leave.

"They are not isolated. Very rarely do we have people not return."

And most also come back at the same level they were before they went on leave.

To help people back into work it offers the chance for people to reduce their hours, start earlier or later, take domestic leave and work from home.

The company is about to have its first intake of new call centre staff that will work from home from the day they start with the firm.

Howell says there isn't a silver bullet or quick fix for getting more women into the management ranks.


"Each company has to find out what works for them. Until you look under the bonnet you wouldn't know why it is like that."

For some she says it is almost a "chicken and egg situation".

Having more women at a top level attracts other women to that firm where as a lone woman may not.

While recruiting women into top level positions is one solution to boost gender diversity Howell says training people up through the ranks is a better long term option.

"You can bring people in at higher levels but ideally you are growing your own."

What to do if you are worried there is a pay difference between you and a workmate
• Do your research
• Check they are doing the same role as you - it may not be as simple as having the same job title
• Sit down with your boss and talk about it