At one time, I worked in a company where a female colleague headed up a division. She was the only female head within the company and suitably proud of her role. What she didn't know - and many of us working in the company did - was that her male underling was on a significantly higher wage than she was.
I brought it up with the colleague who hired both in the department and his answer was simple, delivered with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders: "He asked for more money, she didn't."
Not so simple is the solution to such pay inequity, but, for Kiwi women, at least, it's a situation that's worsening. On the world stage, New Zealand is now ranked 13th in terms of the gender pay gap on the World Economic Forum Annual Report, dropping from seventh place last year, despite the same report citing New Zealand women among the most educated in the world.
The NZ Income Survey provides further proof it's an issue needing redress with last year's survey reporting female earnings must increase by 14 per cent to bridge the gap. The analysis conducted by YWCA shows that since The Equal Pay Act (1972) - after initial progress - that progress has slowed down over the past 15 years.
So, how do businesses create fair pay conditions and how can you find out if you're on a fair deal compared to your male colleagues?
One organisation offering businesses and female employees proactive solutions is the YWCA, who has been empowering Kiwi women and fighting for their rights since 1885. This year marks the organisation's second annual YWCA Equal Pay Awards, with entries closing on September 11 and winners being announced on October 7.
At the heart of the campaign is a thought leadership programme, allowing those blazing the trail for equal pay in New Zealand to be rewarded through recognition, while influencing widespread change among those not yet on the equal pay journey.
Monica Briggs, CEO, YWCA Auckland, is passionate about the programme, having had first-hand experience of pay discrimination when moving from Britain into a position in New Zealand. She fought to get a high wage on par with her British wage, only to discover that the men in the office were earning much more than her.
"The females in the office knew about my negotiation and were amazed I got the result I did. I was rather surprised, then, to find the men in the office were earning much more than me and the other women, even though there were comparable parameters to the roles," says Briggs. "I was pleased I stuck to my negotiating position, because I would have been thoroughly disheartened if I caved in, then found an ever bigger gender pay gap upon arrival."
However, Briggs warns that it's a "particularly delicate area" and says that while some women may feel confident enough to ask their boss if they are an equal pay employer, that isn't the case for all women. Her advice is for businesses to aim for transparency and a systematic approach.
As part of a global network of 25 million women leading social and economic change worldwide, YWCA Auckland has passionately advocated for equal pay since 2012, when it partnered with its pro bono agency, DDB to launch the award-winning campaign, 'Demand Equal Pay,' demonstrating reverse discrimination where men were charged more for products and services because they earned more.
After this campaign, we decided to start a conversation with the business community and the YWCA Equal Pay Awards were born. Equal pay has become the 'elephant in the room' between employers and their staff and our business-friendly, solutions-focused programme encourages open engagement on the issue.
The awards seek out organisations who become positive examples for others to follow. Recently, YWCA also ran seminars for Auckland and Wellington businesses called, "Lifting the Lid on Equal Pay" with more than 100 business leaders attending.
The upcoming Equal Pay Awards are split into three categories: Bronze (Emerging); Silver (Distinguished) and Gold (Champion). Criteria for entry can be as simple as conducting an audit more advanced, such as having gender inclusive graduate programmes, flexible workplace practices, strong parental leave packages or gender bias training for staff.
Susan Doughty, Partner, Talent & Rewards at the YWCA's Equal Pay Awards' partner organisation EY has over 25 years' experience in senior remuneration and human resources roles and has worked with companies on gender analysis to highlight where females are paid less than males for comparable work.
"I am yet to find an organisation that deliberately sets out to pay males/females differently so reasons for pay inequity can often be quite subtle," says Doughty. "At EY, we publish pay bands for each rank. For example, all graduates start on the same published pay rate and we analyse the gender pay gap during the annual salary review process."
Doughty believes there should be more transparency around wages with companies encouraged to publish pay ranges for jobs, however, she says publishing individual pay rates is problematic, due to confidentiality.
Her advice for businesses wanting to tackle the gender equality issue is to start by analysing the current state in order to set a baseline of information. This includes examining graduate starting rates and rates of promotion and progression by gender.
For employees, finding out if pay is on target is difficult because there is currently no requirement for Kiwi businesses to report on gender statistics, including pay equity, so it can be hard to find out if you're working for an equal pay employer.
One of the better organisations the YWCA Pay Equity Awards uncovered last year is the New Zealand Defence Force (Highly Commended), whose efforts include gender-neutral decision making, equal starting rates for men and women and transparent performance reviews.
And though business leaders, through initiatives such as the YWCA awards, are doing their part to redress the balance, some governments are weighing in as well. Next year in Britain, businesses with more than 250 workers will be forced to disclose the pay gap in their workplaces. Though it's too late to help my ex-colleague, it's heartening to know it will potentially make it less likely in the future. "It's important to place pressure on companies to recognise and tackle these issues, otherwise it stays hidden," Doughty says.
The YWCA awards seems a positive pressure to place on businesses, bringing to light the best practices within local businesses - big and small.