Statistical analyses are not usually my cup of English Breakfast.

After being forced to wade through chi-squared tests and the like during my psychology degree, I've subsequently tried to avoid them like the plague.

I'm not generally given to yelling "yes!" at the screen when the discussion turns to the 90th quantile.

This week, however, I found myself doing just that.


On the eve of International Women's Day, Paula Bennett, our new Minister for Women, released a report authored by AUT researchers, proving what most women have known for a very long time: sexist bias is a thing.

It is so much of a thing that it accounts for up to 80 per cent of the gender pay gap.

The official gender pay gap in New Zealand is currently 12 per cent, and the "Empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand" report looked into the number itself and the factors that contribute to it.

The report found that while 20 per cent of the gap can be accounted for by considering so-called "traditional drivers" (such as family responsibilities, education, type of work, and age), the remaining four-fifths likely include a hefty dose of [conscious or unconscious] discrimination.

The official line came from Acting CEO of the Ministry for Women Margaret Retter in the report's foreword.

"Around 80 per cent of the gender pay gap is now due to 'unexplained' factors, which the Ministry views primarily as behaviour, attitudes, and assumptions about women in work, including unconscious bias," she wrote.

No kidding.

As valuable as such a report is to the discussion around the gender pay gap, there's a part of me that despairs that we needed researchers to tell us (in admirable depth) what we already knew but didn't want to acknowledge.

The Ministry for Women has done great work in bringing this report to the public, but the fact that it is needed at all is somewhat galling.

When the report was released, a brave Twitter user pondered whether feminists like Alison Mau and I were owed an apology by the many people who have attacked us over our pesky habit of asserting that it's unfair that men get paid more than women.

Though it is highly unlikely that any expressions of remorse will be forthcoming, there is perhaps a grim satisfaction in seeing the record set straight.

I suspect that women like Hillary Clinton would also feel somewhat vindicated were they to read the report's unflinching summation that there is, "clear evidence pointing to a glass ceiling effect".

The next step, of course, is to figure out how to address the "attitudes" and "assumptions" about women that are resulting in an uneven playing field.

I'd wager that to tame them we first must name them - and I'm not talking about "conscious and unconscious bias".

The time for euphemisms is long past.

There is only one word that can truly take responsibility for the gender pay gap, and it is sexism.

It's a term that's fallen out of vogue in recent times, replaced by words designed to make us feel more comfortable.

Its fall from grace is perhaps unsurprising in a time when plans to close the gap appear to hinge on imploring businesses to do better.

While we all want to believe that employers will a) see the results of this week's study and b) be shocked enough by them to lead the charge towards equality, when "unconscious bias" generally relies on the fact that people honestly believe that they are not biased, the strategy starts to unravel fairly quickly.

If we need inspiration for a more robust approach, I would suggest that the recent Terranova case provides a few pertinent pointers.

As Kristine Bartlett proved, when it comes to shifting stubborn, outdated and discriminative attitudes, the sharp teeth of the law seem to have a rather more momentous impact than the undoubtedly well-intentioned gentle suggestions of a Minister.

I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the mere existence of the gender pay gap means that a number of employers are breaking the law.


Section 2A of the Equal Pay Act of 1972 - yes, 1972 - clearly states that "No employer shall refuse or omit to offer or afford any person the same terms of employment, conditions of work, fringe benefits, and opportunities for training, promotion, and transfer as are made available for persons of the same or substantially similar qualifications employed in the same or substantially similar circumstances on work of that description by reason of the sex of that person."

I wonder what then-Prime Minister Jack Marshall would think if he knew we'd still be bickering over Equal Pay in 2017, 40-odd years after his government passed the Act.

Perhaps the greatest gift this report has given us, however, is an utter refutation of the many excuses often used to mansplain the gender pay gap away.

Nineteenth century ideas about gender can no longer be used to justify paying 21st century women an unfair wage.