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On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Jackie Blue, Jan Logie, and Rachel Petero

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Fuseworks Media

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Jackie Blue, Jan Logie, and Rachel Petero

Youtube clips from the show are available here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz0MB0iTsElH5b9c7zuGvsA

Headlines:

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue has called on all political leaders to commit to a 50% quota of women in cabinet

She’s also called for New Zealand to follow Australia and the UK and require all larger companies (employing more than 250 people) to publish details of their gender pay gap, with fines for those who don’t comply.

Lisa Owen: Jackie, to start off with, why do you think that women are still so overrepresented in those low-paying jobs?

Jackie Blue: I think a lot of it’s historic, but it’s also how women have been steered towards careers which don’t have an economic advantage. That all can obviously change when we have the equal pay case coming through and the recommendations from the joint working group hopefully been accepted by the government. But I think we’ve got lots of work to do in education and getting girls early on and opening them up to other opportunities, such as STEM subjects, and going into areas where there’s economic growth.

Jan, the thing is that the jobs dominated by women are paid less. Why?

Jan Logie: It’s historical. It’s exploitation, actually, when you come to it and look at it today, because we’ve known that those jobs are underpaid for a few decades now, that they are, say, rest home workers, caregivers, social workers, librarians, possibly journalists, professions dominated by women that are highly skilled and offer massive value to our society and are paid often just over the minimum wage.

When you say exploitation, then that suggests a level of intent at keeping the wages low.

Logie: Absolutely. Well, we know that the gender pay gap is bigger in the public service and that the government has known that these professions are underpaid for a long time and they haven’t fixed it. I don’t see what else you’d call that.

And I want to get to government departments soon. Rachel, do you agree that it’s exploitation?

Rachel Petero: Yeah, I think we’ve been very patient as a society. Then you look at the pay gap for Maori and Pasifika, it’s even worse. So I think we’ve been patient. I think we’re here saying it’s time to put in measures. It’s time to look at quotas. It’s time to look at all of that and re-evaluate.

Blue: Yeah, I looked at the stats for the pay gender gap, tracked it back from 1998 going forward. If we use the median, it’s going to take 30 or 40 years to get a pay gender gap of zero. If you look at average hourly, it’s going to take a hundred years. I mean, that’s not acceptable. Not acceptable at all.

What do you think is an acceptable timeframe to work to, then?

Blue: Oh, I think that we’d need to probably have a five- to 10-year frame to look at. That would be reasonable and acceptable.

So in our lifetimes, you think it’s..?

Blue: Absolutely.

Petero: Yes.

Logie: It has to be, and I just think the public mood is shifting, and there’s a real sense of women getting to the point of frustration because we’ve been told we needed to educate ourselves to be able to be paid more. We did that. Then we were told we needed to network more and learn how to play the game better. We’ve done that. And still employers, and including government in this, don’t take any responsibility for ensuring that there is equity and fairness in their workplaces. We’ve got to change the game.

On that subject, we have women that are doing work with a certain skill level. It might not be exactly the same as another job, but it has the same skill base. That seems complicated to compare those two jobs and work out what’s fair and therefore off-putting, maybe, to employers to go through that process.

Blue: No, it’s not complicated. It’s straightforward. People probably try and make it look complicated. The joint working group came out with a flow diagram of how all this could work, and you do need comparator - a male comparator to compare what the lower-paid female work is.

And can I just say, Jackie - sorry to interrupt - let’s use an example so people can understand what we’re talking about, so caregivers were shown to have the same sort of skill set as Corrections officers.

Blue: Correct.

But there was a big difference in pay.

Blue: It’s huge.

So people will look at that and think, ‘Well, how do you compare those jobs?’

Blue: Well, it’s doable. Other countries do it. We can do it. And so we have the process of the recommendations, a process going forward which will hopefully bypass courts the majority of times and really look at bargaining, negotiation and mediation.

But the Government has had those recommendations since round May of this year. Would you expect them to make a decision? Why are they dragging their feet?

Blue: Well, I understand it is quite soon, but I actually would want them to get it right, not to do something hurriedly.

Logie: That negotiation was set up by the government to get the case out of court because it was winning in court, and they set up this group of businesspeople, unions and government who negotiated those principles together and worked through the difficulties, and now Cabinet’s sitting on it. And I really think we have to go back to that question of - is our political leadership committed to valuing women? And I think the answer is clearly no.

On the other hand, we’ve talked about low-paid jobs. Women are also underrepresented in senior jobs, aren’t they? For example, women make up about 60% of employees at law firms - New Zealand law firms - but only 26% of them are partners or directors. None of our top 50 companies have a woman CEO. Why?

Petero: So it’s about accountability. It’s about accountability of our leaders in those organisations, and today we don’t have to report on any of those diversity or equality stats. So we need to make our leaders of those organisations accountable for being transparent about what is the plan - what is the plan around diversity inclusion, not only of women but of all of our areas of diversity? So there needs to be accountability, and today there isn’t.

How do you get that, Jackie?

Blue: By making targets that are enforceable. You could look at quotas, which I think we all need to have a serious debate about in New Zealand. I just want to say I looked at the stats for women on state sector boards, which is 43%, and the stock-exchange-listed companies, at 17% women, but I extrapolated those out, and it’s going to take both of them 15 years before they get to equality - 50% each. I mean, that’s not acceptable, so nothing is happening quickly, so I think we need to have that serious conversation about quotas.

Logie: And I would just like to say that at the Greens we’ve always had a quota in place for gender. We have a 50-50 balanced caucus, and it was because we recognised those barriers to women’s participation and that we would benefit from putting this in place, and we have. We have a really strong team, and women are at the heart of it.

Well, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has a Cabinet that is 50-50 - 50% women, 50% men. I mean, Labour was laughed out of town when it kind of suggested something similar, so is quota really the answer?

Blue: I’ve thought long and hard over this, knowing there’d be a big pushback if I said the word ‘quota’ - that Q word which never should be uttered. But, quite frankly, I want to challenge all political leaders next year in the lead-up to the election that if they form part of government, they need to commit to a gender-balanced Cabinet. And if anything, the Cabinet is the ultimate board in New Zealand, and if women on boards is now being accepted as good for business, it bloody is going to be good for New Zealand. So I don’t want to hear these sort of measly, ‘Oh, we appoint on merit,’ or, ‘If we use quotas-’

So what do you say to that, though? ‘We appoint on merit,’ it’s a fair point, isn’t it?

Blue: No, other statements are like, ‘Oh, if you bring women in, you’ll get inferior women.’ Even women say, unfortunately, ‘I want to be there on my merit, not on a quota.’ Unfortunately, there’s huge bias in exerting those sorts of comments. They’ve got to be challenged and say, ‘Well, which definition and whose definition of merit are you using?’ It’s usually the dominant culture, ie men, so they need to understand those powerful forces of bias.

Logie: I would compare, say, the Greens, where we have that- I challenge anyone to say that the women in our caucus contribute less than men, and I would also look at National and the fact that they’re struggling to get 25% of women in their caucus and-

They’ve got 35% women make-up in Cabinet.

Logie: Yeah, but in their caucus, they’re struggling for 25%. And the picture in the paper after the last three elections has been John Key and his key advisors - a room full of old white men. So it’s actually going to why would a talented, impassioned woman go to the National Party?

So I just want to quickly, before we move on, Jackie, quotas - you say, ‘Mm, nasty Q word, ‘ and you talk about accountability, so are you talking about legally enforceable quotas at some point?

Blue: I think we have to have that debate. I mean, we’ve asked nicely. We’ve implored. We’ve pleaded. Not much is happening. Women’s representation in Parliament has actually gone static, and I go back to the point of women in the current Cabinet - 35%. That’s seven out of 20. John Key just has to bring three more women in and he’s got a gender-balanced Cabinet. That’s not too hard.

Logie: It’s not hard.

Blue: And I would say that he needs to look further into his caucus. All women I feel that get to Parliament are absolutely capable of being a minister, whatever party, because they’ve been up against it to get there in the first place. The thing is - are they a stereotype of politician? No, probably not, but they bring a different skill set and they’ll add value to the team. And he’s got those women; he just needs to get over his own biases and select them.

What about private sector, Rachel? What about companies? You talk about accountability, so should there be quotas for private companies?

Petero: Yeah, so I’ve seen it happen in both ways, where we set quotas, but I also think we need to give time and space for some of our leaders to come up with what is their plan? Yeah, so give them some time and space. If they don’t live up to that, and that’s time imperative, then we start to enforce. So there are great companies. I mean, Adrian Orr, CEO of Superfund, he’s got great philosophy, a great culture, and he is empowering women.

But all of you have said, ‘We have been asking nicely and nothing has changed,’ so therefore say again, do we need to enforce something?

Petero: Yeah, we do need to enforce something. That’s what we’re saying, yes.

Well, the government is one of the biggest employers, which is what you raised, Jan. 60% of public servants are female. 39% of chief executive roles are filled by women in that sector. Should the government be leading by example on quota there?

Logie: I mean, for me I think this is what we expect in terms of leadership, and going back to that point around that women’s frustration that I’m sensing a build-up of, and it’s like, actually, our leaders are lagging behind our expectations of what we want for our society. And I think our government should catch up, so, yes.

Blue: The public service, I think, is actually leading. For the first time this year they published the pay gender gaps by department. That’s historic. That is huge. And now CEOs have to actually in their four-year plan state how they’re going to address that gap, so that’s great.

And those gaps were horrendous in some departments. So 39% in defence, 27% in Crown law. In terms of the private sector, how do you think you get accountability, Jackie? You’ve got an idea around an initiative for that, don’t you, with private companies?

Blue: Yeah, I like to follow the UK legislation which is coming in next year where every company with more than 250 employees needs to publish their pay gender gap and bonus gap.

Logie: Transparency.

Blue: And they tried the voluntary approach, didn’t work, so they’re bringing in legislation. There’s going to be a penalty if they don’t comply of about £5000. It’s still too low. But just across in Australia, they’ve been doing that since 2012 for companies over 100, so this is not like a weird idea.

So that’s what you’d want, a law making them report and if you don’t report, you get pinged for it?

Blue: Yeah, and target the big companies, because most of the workforce is employed by the bigger companies, and if you really want to get that value and influence and obviously get the most improved benefit, you want to target the big businesses first.

So companies over 250 employees, right?

Blue: To begin with and then bring it down to 100. We’ve got 2000 of those in New Zealand.

I want to talk about the Women’s Minister. It’s a position outside Cabinet. Is this a sign, Rachel, that the government doesn’t think it’s a priority?

Petero: Yeah, I think it is. I think it is. And I’ve met Louise and I think she does a great job. I think it is about inclusiveness, so she does need to be part of Cabinet, yes. That’s my...

Blue: Well, there are three women ministers out of Cabinet - Nicky Wagner, Jo Goodhew and Louise - all good women. Bring them in; you’ve got a gender-balanced Cabinet.

When she became Minister for Women, she said she wasn’t a feminist because she wasn’t interested in being a flag-waver. Jan, do we need a feminist in that job?

Logie: Again, I’ve got say I think we do, particularly- I understand Maori women who may not use the term feminist or for women of different cultures. It may have a different meaning for them. But if it’s going to be a Pakeha woman and we have that tradition of Kate Sheppard, actually, I expect our political leadership to follow in that pathway in a more inclusive way. But, yeah, it’s just the fact that she wouldn’t stand up on the Chiefs, she’s been missing in action on so many of our cultural conversations that are so central to our wellbeing as women, I expect a woman to be part of those conversations.

Petero: And, honestly, our population is 4.5 million. We’re not the UK. We haven’t got a population of 20 million. We’re not a tanker where things need to turn very slowly. We can actually make things happen. We can get our arms around this, and we should be leading the world in leadership, especially for women. What would Kate Sheppard say today?

Blue: She’d be horrified.

Petero: She’d be horrified.

Jackie Blue, what did you make of her definition of feminism - flag-waving - because it seems to be feminism seems to be a bit of a dirty word these days?

Blue: It is, and I actually think, though, she didn’t define herself as a feminist; things she has said means she actually is a feminist and she does support women. I think she’s really constrained by the fact she is a junior minister outside Cabinet in a largely male-dominated Cabinet and caucus.

So-

Logie: I also think it’s worth noting that the Ministry for Women used to play a really key role in our society in leading discussion and great research. It is now the most poorly funded ministry of all of them. The only organisation within government that gets less money is the Commissioner for the Environment, who has a much more constrained role. So, actually, our expectations can’t be very high when that’s what the government’s decided.

But essentially you all think we should have quotas, legally enforceable means to move this ahead?

Blue: Absolutely.

Petero: Yeah.

Logie: I think we really have to have the conversation.

Petero: Have a bigger conversation.

Blue: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

All right. Well, it’s been a great conversation this morning. Thank you all for joining me. Much appreciated.

Blue: You’re welcome.

Petero: Thank you.

Logie: Thanks.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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