Despite being two of the biggest names in tennis, Venus and Serena Williams will pocket just half the prize money of the top male player should either of them win next month's ASB Classic.

Pay equity organisation YWCA is launching a petition today to close the gender pay gap, saying it is reflected in workplaces throughout New Zealand.

The tournament's female singles winner will win US$43,000 while the male champion will take home US$82,450.

That's out of a total prize pool of US$250,000 for women and about US$450,000 for men. Some players are also paid an undisclosed appearance fee.

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ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge pointed out that the men's and women's competitions were governed by two separate bodies - the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men and the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

Despite both falling under the umbrella of the ASB Classic, the men's and women's events were completely separate tours with the ATP and WTA setting their own prize pools independent of one another.

"You're not comparing apples with apples. There's a whole different business model behind each of them," Budge said.

He said it would be like expecting a New Zealand Super Rugby team to be paid the same as a team from the Australian Premiership.

Asked if he would like to see the WTA and the ATP align their pay, Budge said: "I would like equality, yes. But again, it's not as simple as saying the two tours should be paid the same because it's completely different propositions.

Venus Williams at the ASB Classic 2015. Photo / Nick Reed
Venus Williams at the ASB Classic 2015. Photo / Nick Reed

"You'd have to change absolutely everything you do: you'd have to change the ownership model of the tournament, you'd have to change the financial distributions from the tours, you'd have to change the commitments you need to provide for the players. All of that stuff changes - you're trying to integrate two things that aren't aligned."

Budge further pointed out that female players received additional benefits and support that male players did not, including being provided with a physio by the WTA.

The YWCA will launch a petition today calling for tournament winnings to be made the same for men and women, with the hope of starting a broader conversation about pay parity in New Zealand.

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"With tennis' biggest female stars on our doorstep and the world watching, we've sent the message to our daughters that you can be the best in the world and you'll still get paid less than a man," the petition says.

YWCA chief executive Monica Briggs said the discrepancy was reflected in workplaces throughout New Zealand.

"It's been stubborn for many years in New Zealand - the last 15 years it's been pretty static," she said.

On average, New Zealand women earned 14 per cent an hour less than men, with jobs traditionally seen as the domain of women at the lowest end of the pay scale, Briggs said.

Also among university graduates, Briggs said women were paid less than men who had completed the same course of study.

"This is happening in the first five years [after graduating], which is not the child bearing age of the average New Zealand woman so that dispels the old myth that the pay gap is because of women leaving the work force, having babies and doing caring. There's much, much more at play than that," she said.

"I don't think it's a calculated, deliberate thing most of the time. I think there are issues around awareness."

In the public sector, the differences between men and women's salaries varied greatly. At the Crown Law Office, for example, Briggs said men earned about 39 per cent more than women, while at the Department of Corrections that dropped to just 2 per cent, according to State Services Commission statistics released earlier this year. This was despite the two organisations having similar proportions of male and female employees.

ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge. Photo / Richard Robinson
ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge. Photo / Richard Robinson

The Government last month accepted recommendations of a working group led by Business NZ and the NZ Council of Trade Unions. This will allow employees who believe they are underpaid because they work in fields dominated by women to raise a pay equity claim. When making such a claim, employees need to find a non-female-dominated job they can compare their work to.

Briggs said the new legislation meant next year would likely see thousands of claims lodged by women who were being underpaid.

Having the Williams sisters in town was the perfect platform from which to launch towards pay equality.

"They've been amazing stalwart advocates for gender equality and pay equality. So it's a really good point for New Zealand, at the beginning of 2017, to say, 'We're going to tackle this, we're going to make headway - we've got to'."

The YWCA's petition will be available today at matchthemoney.co.nz