Kiwi women are lagging behind their American counterparts when it comes to earning more than their partners.

Research by Boston Consulting Group found one third of married women in the United States earned more than their husbands.

But Statistics New Zealand data based on the 2013 Census shows just 18.6 per cent of women in married or de facto relationships earn more than their partner.

A further 23.1 per cent earned about the same as their other half while 58.3 per cent earned less.

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Therese Singleton, AMP's general manager advice and sales, believed the difference was partly cultural with more women going back to work after having a family in America on the back of poor parental leave entitlements and holiday pay.

"The New Zealand culture is very much around lifestyle."

She said the gender pay gap was much higher in the US at around 17 per cent while here it was 9 per cent.

Research by Westpac released last year found while women make up roughly half of the workforce they hold just 29 per cent of management roles.

Singleton said obviously those management roles were the ones that paid more and while it would be good for more women to get into senior positions she didn't "want to change the flexibility of women being able to have a career and family".

Singleton said AMP saw the greatest losses of women in their 30s who were at the pinnacle of getting into senior management and then went and had children.

Their focus then changed to their family, said Singleton.

A lot of women said to her that they wouldn't want her job because it meant working longer hours and giving up time with their children.

Singleton said the solution had to lie in more sophisticated ways to encourage women to keep working.

"I support more women who want to do cottage industry jobs — self-employed roles like financial advice."

On the plus side, she expected more women to earn more than their other halves in the future given that New Zealand tended to follow US trends.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell says women need to have confidence to take on leadership roles which will earn more money. Photo/Sarah Ivey.
Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell says women need to have confidence to take on leadership roles which will earn more money. Photo/Sarah Ivey.

Miranda Burdon, chief executive of Global Women New Zealand, said the statistics were another data point which indicated New Zealand businesses were underperforming when it came to getting enough women into leadership roles.

"This is about women's representation in senior leadership roles."

She said although the public sector was doing well the private sector still needed to "pull its socks up".

"How many times do we need to be told we are slipping behind?

"These numbers just reinforce the fact that New Zealand business is underperforming in terms of women represented in senior leadership."

Burdon said businesses needed to make a conscious decision to make change and put the resources into making it happen.

"I know a lot of women are very keen to lead but hit a lot of barriers that derive from the old way of working."

She said companies tended to perpetuate the past — look for what they know.
"A lot of it is systemic."

Burdon said a 9-to-5 day and even longer hours for senior roles was not a good fit for working parents.

She said parental leave needed to be equalised for both parents and businesses also needed to accept that a woman might take time off to have a family and not punish them for doing that.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell said the figures were "incredibly frustrating".

The commission's research showed women did really well in managing money on a day-to-day basis but were not good at planning long term and thinking about 20 to 30 years in advance.

"If you don't go for those promotions, bigger-paid jobs, we are not going to change the numbers."

But she said a lot of women had told her they could not see how to make a top job work with all their other responsibilities.

"Women offered promotions have said to me: "I just don't know how I can do it." That is a terrible thing."

She said there was still a lack of confidence among women.

"We don't back ourselves. And don't rate highly enough the skills we have."

But Maxwell said the danger was that women used the housework as a reason for not going for the big jobs.

"Sometimes there is a fear factor — that imposter syndrome feeling that we will get found out — to that extent we may need to get a bit braver."

Maxwell knows well the challenges of balancing work and home life.

When she took on the role of Retirement Commissioner she had a 1-year-old. "I thought: How am I going to make this work?"

She urged women to stop questioning how they will do everything and begin to think about what they wanted to achieve.

"I think the tension is how much is stuff we do to ourselves and how much is thrust on us.
"I don't want to say it's all about what is being done to women.

"If we don't go for the job or the promotion or the pay rise — that's all down to us.
"We have got to be careful we don't become moaners."