Closing the Gender Pay Gap with Rebekah Gerry

March 04, 2021

March 04, 2021

Sagrika 0:00

Welcome to the BetterSaver podcast. Today we’re talking to Rebekah Gerry from Closing the Gap about the gender pay gap. Before we get into it, it’s important to note that this podcast does not give financial advice. Investment decisions are important. And if you need help, you should talk to a financial adviser.

Rebekah, thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re doing at Closing the Gap?

Rebekah 0:28

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me, guys. So my name is Rebekah Gerry or Becky, I have been working in financial services space for sort of the last five years. And that’s turned me into a bit of a budget nerd. And particularly over the last few years, I’ve been working in the space of kind of financial education and financial well being and really trying to help people make better decisions with their money. And so about two and a half years ago, I met a really amazing woman called Alexandra Lipski, who was really passionate about something called the gender investment gap. And this is the gap between the rate at which men and women are investing. And so we got talking and together with a few friends, we found a social enterprise called closing the gap. And we’re really aiming to try and reduce that gap in investment and kind of normalize conversations about money amongst women, educate them about investing, and really encourage women and particularly young women to kind of our generation to start investing. So we host workshops, we run podcasts, and we also run a blog to try and do this.

Sagrika 1:28

Wow, that’s so cool. You’re just a regular Superwoman. So just digging into the topic of the podcast, what is the gender pay gap? And what does it look like in New Zealand?

Rebekah 1:38

So I think there’s a few terms that are really useful to clarify, just when we’re kind of talking about the gender pay gap, because it can be a little bit of a political conversation sometimes. So first off, there’s equal pay. And this just means you get the same pay for the same work. And I think pretty much everyone agrees on this. And not doing this has been illegal in New Zealand since 1972. So before this, you could actually have like quite explicitly saying, like, this is the rate for, say, a bank teller, who’s a man and a bank teller, who’s a woman because the man has to provide for his family. So thankfully for us that’s not the case anymore.

So yeah, since the Equal Pay Act of 1972, that has been illegal. And then there’s another term called pay equity, which is more what we kind of think about these days, which is equal pay for work of equal value. So it’s looking at work in female dominated industries, like teaching or care work and saying, actually, this work as a similar skill and responsibility experiences, other industries, but we are not paying it as highly because it’s a female dominated industry. And we’ve got those historical, I guess, biases against that. So there was a really prominent case in New Zealand legal case in New Zealand in 2014, called Terra Nova, where a woman called Christine Bartlett who was an aged care worker, really brought this kind of question into public consciousness. And that has led to the Equal Pay Amendment, which only actually came into force last year, which says that in New Zealand, you can also bring claims of pay equity in New Zealand. So you could say my group of workers is, you know, being discriminated because we’re in a female dominated role. And even though we’ve got similar skill and responsibility and experiences, other roles, so that’s equal pay and pay equity. And so then you’ve got the gender pay gap, which in New Zealand is the difference in median hourly earnings between men and women across all roles. So equal pay is the same pay for same work, pay equity is the same pay for equal value work, like similar skills and things and then the gender pay gap is just the difference across all roles between men and women. So in New Zealand, Stats NZ say that that gap at the moment is 9.5%. And it’s pretty steadily been around that kind of 9-10 percent over the last few years. So to break it down, basically, the typical Kiwi man earns about 10%, more from an hour’s work than the typical Kiwi woman.

Sagrika 4:07

That’s pretty scary.

Rebekah 4:09

Yeah, I mean, infuriating, right?

Jade 4:18

What are the actual impacts on women today?

Rebekah 4:21

So I think money underpins so much of what we want to do in our lives, right? And as much as we you know, we’d like to live in a world that runs on ‘not money’, that’s not the one we live in at the moment. So when you’ve got a lower salary, you know, just from the beginning, and then you look at your salary increases often as a percentage, your KiwiSaver is often as a percentage, bonuses might be as a percentage, then all of those things really flow into making it a lot harder financially for women. And, you know, if you don’t have that disposable income, if you don’t have the ability to save, then you might not be able to build up a rainy day fund for when things go wrong. And that could lead to a debt that’s persistent and all of those kind of compounding effects on women. And I think it really just does come down to decision making and, and that kind of independence. So if you don’t have the financial foundation to make those choices, then you might be sort of in, I guess, a risk of staying in a negative environment or negative workplace because you’ve got these financial pressures.

Jade 5:27

So to kind of summarize what you just said, are you saying that the gender pay gap limits, you know, what we can achieve in life as women financially and otherwise?

Rebekah 5:37

Yeah, I think so. And obviously, I mean, it’s different for individual women. So it’s worth noting that the kind of gender pay gap is as a whole, and there’s a whole ethnicity angle to consider as well. So Maori and Pasifika woman are earning less than their Pakeha counterparts. So you know, this kind of that intersectionality as well of if you are maybe a minority in multiple senses, then you have even more of an impact. And there’s actually also some U.S. research that’s sort of showing the link between financial stress and mental health concerns. So if you’ve got that financial stress constantly on your back, and you’re constantly worried about how you’re going to pay rent or pay your bills, then that can also lead to kind of mental and physical concerns as well.

Jade 6:23

And I mean, it’s really obvious that the gender pay gap, obviously negatively affects women, but do you think it has a negative impact on men too?

Rebekah 6:31

I think, there’s definitely ways to think about it, that there is and I think it also comes down to kind of those sometimes gender role expectations. So if there’s a pressure on men to feel like they need to be the breadwinner, they need to be advancing their career and focused on that, then, you know, there is an argument that they are potentially missing out on the opportunity to enjoy better work life balance, and if theyr’e a parent maybe have that time, and that, I guess, societal support to maybe fully engage in their role as a parent or, or caregiver for their children.

And I think the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted this kind of gender pay gap as well, because there’s been some really interesting, but also depressing statistics come out about, you know, the impact on women, women’s unemployment as a result of COVID. So if you think about those roles, which really depend on social interaction, like frontline service workers, and cafes, you know, those kind of caregiving roles, all of those things were, you know, much more impacted when we were going into strict lockdown. And therefore, you know, that financial burden of the pandemic has actually fallen a lot more strongly on women. And just August last year, Stats NZ found that 90% of Kiwis who had lost their jobs because of COVID were women. So it’s pretty heavily skewed. Yeah, crazy. And but then the support that we have from the government is kind of like shovel ready projects, like, well, construction tends to be a more male dominated job. So you’re essentially saying all these women who’ve lost their jobs, either retrain in an industry that maybe isn’t super welcoming to you, or, you know, it’s okay, we can give your boyfriend a job.

Yeah. And I think the kind of third angle, so there’s obviously an impact on women. And, you know, not having that financial, I guess, stability, maybe that they would have if the gender pay gap closed, that flows into kind of families and households, because women make up families and households. And so there’s that impact on men who are, you know, partnered with women, the impact on men who feel like they have to be a provider. But there’s also this impact more broadly on society and on workplaces, who are maybe either losing female talent because they, you know, don’t have that flexibility, and not maybe promoting or recognizing those women that would be wanting those senior roles. But also, if we have more women in financial strife, then that’s, you know, social services or NGOs having to maybe pick up that burden as well.

Jade 9:18

Very true.

Sagrika 9:22

So you’ve talked a lot about the drivers so far the gender pay gap, one being, you know, intersectionality, traditional gender roles, and how different races and ethnicities play into it. Is there any other societal factors that you know, drive the gender pay gap?

Rebekah 9:38

Yeah, I mean, it’s such a complicated, I guess, topic. If it was easy, then hopefully, we would have solved it by now. Right. So I think what I mentioned earlier about like sort of female dominated workforces have historically been paid much lower, so kind of education care workers and we’re trying to, I guess, compensate and adjust that now. There was some research that came out of AUT a few years ago that basically said most of the gender pay gap now about like 80% of it is kind of those harder to measure factors like conscious and unconscious bias, which are impacting kind of promotion and recruitment. And so when you look at low incomes, so people, maybe you’re just on minimum wage or doing sort of more blue collar work, there’s less of a gap. And that tends to be because they’re tied to pay bands. And it’s more about the type of work people doing, where the gender pay gap really comes in as those sort of higher income brackets, where maybe there’s a gap of 20%, between men and women, and it’s much more around, people are getting into leadership positions that are more likely to be men, and those are the highest salary bands. And so it’s sort of like, how are we trying to get women into leadership positions? And how are we trying to make sure that they are compensated well, when they are in those positions?

Sagrika 10:56

Awesome. Something I’ve also read about is how sometimes women are more afraid to ask for those pay raises, you know, there’s unconscious things you were talking about. Or they might feel they are not capable of doing a job where if a man is presented with the same job description, they’re like, Oh, actually, I can do most of this. I’ll give it a crack. Do you know what I mean?

Rebekah 11:16

Absolutely, yeah, yeah, both of those things are definitely things that have been researched and recorded. So you know, women are less likely to go for a role unless they feel like they tick all of the requirements listed. And whereas men sort of like, Oh, yeah, 60%, I’ll give it a shot. I think the thing with negotiation is like, absolutely, women need to negotiate their salaries more, but even when they do, there’s research that shows they don’t get as much of an increase or as much of a bonus as maybe similar men do. And I think we’ve also got this particularly New Zealand, we’ve sort of like to think that we’re a meritocracy. And that, you know, we just want to hire the best person for the job. And I think that, we often do that without really challenging the definition of what merit is, and we can kind of have those biases. And, you know, there’s a lot of studies that show we’re drawn to people that look and think and act like us. So you kind of get this a bit of a vicious cycle, if the leadership of a company already looks like a certain way, then they might just be hiring people who are sort of similar to them,

Jade 12:21

What you’re saying is, it’s kind of like a feedback loop some of these drivers.

Rebekah 12:25

Yeah, definitely. The other thing that’s really interesting is kind of the research that shows that men and women are sort of, you know, a similar level earlier in their career where there’s not as much of a gap. And then motherhood tends to be this massive, I guess, penalty for women. So you take time off work quite often, which is not only the loss of income for a year, but loss of your KiwiSaver contribution for a year, loss of that government contribution to your KiwiSaver it means that you maybe don’t have a pay rise that year that maybe your peer group is having, you’ve lost a year of experience, in in some sense. And then you’ve got also those conscious and unconscious, you know, stereotypes that maybe they’re not going to be as committed, you probably need some more flexibility to deal with childcare. And so you might be a part time role. And part time roles tend to be a lower hourly rate than full time jobs. So just all of those kinds of things. And, you know, there’s also research that shows sort of mothers and maybe have that gratitude at having flexibility. And so they’re less likely to maybe put be pushing for the salary or all those other benefits.

Jade 13:35

And I mean, that does impact on men as well, right? Because I know, we’ve got a guy in the office, and he’s just about to have a baby. And he’s one of those rare people who actually is going to take paternity leave, rather than just, you know, letting his wife do it.

Rebekah 13:50

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s one of those things where, you know, you have, you know, you had parental leave, and in theory, it can be shared, and yet a lot of couples aren’t doing that. And, again, that ties, it’s sort of a vicious loop of that gender pay gap, because you think, well, it makes more sense for the person who earns more to stay in their job, or, you know, the woman physically is needing to care for the child for the first wee while. So it makes sense for her to discontinue that. So all of those kind of things tie together. And basically, you know, part time work around a third of women are working part time versus on the 10% of men. And if you think about the types of roles that let you work part time, they tend to be maybe roles that have less responsibility and therefore lower hourly rate, and just maybe roles that you are less likely to get a promotion out of and all those kinds of things.

Sagrika 14:40

And you know, with COVID how things have been gearing more towards working from home, do you think stuff like that could impact the gender pay gap positively where women can obviously work from home not have to be in the office still be near the kids?Yeah, so things like that. Do you think that could help change some of the gender pay gap?

Rebekah 15:00

Yeah, I think I mean, I was in the UK for most of last year, and there was a lot of fascinating - because you know, they’ve been in lockdown for coming up in some form of lockdown for coming up a year now - and there’s a lot of really fascinating articles about, you know, is it actually good to be working from home, because you’ve got children who are not in school because schools are closed, and they need someone to teach them. But you still have a full time job. And all of a sudden, it’s the assumption that it’s the woman who’s going to be doing those online lessons with her children. I think the reality is that, you know, teaching your child is a full time job as much as your actual normal job is. And yeah, I think people are getting a lot more burnt out, it’s not as easy to just say, while your children are there, so they can just be there and you can work from home, and it’s all great. The reality is a lot a lot more complicated and difficult to deal with.

Sagrika 16:01

How do we fix the gender pay gap? How can we solve this problem?

Jade 16:06

Well, you know, here’s my five step plan to solve it for the world. Just kidding!

Rebekah 16:11

It’s a complicated issue, I think the in terms of the whose responsibility is I think everyone’s I think there is an impact on women, on families, on businesses and on you know, society as a whole. That means we should all be doing something to try and, and reduce this gap. There’s an organization called Global Women who do a lot of work around women in leadership, and that the gender pay gap, and they have a lot of resources to sort of support organizations who want to, I guess, take action. I mean, one of the main things for an organization is to actually measure what that gender pay gap is in the organization and be honest and transparent about it, what you’re going to do about it, I think workplace flexibility is a massive thing. And again, that’s something that would benefit men and women to be able to make time for those caring responsibilities that maybe mean you can’t advance your career in the traditional nine to five Monday to Friday, that normalization of parental leave, sorry, our paternal leave is a massive thing. So it’s all very well to support women into the workplace. But you also need to make sure they have the backup at home to be able to do that. Things like gender bias in the recruitment process. There’s a lot of cool ways that you can try and have like blind selection of candidates, interviews and things like that. Women and leadership and not just a token, one woman, all of those kinds of things. I think ANZ has, when people go on parental leave, they continue to give their KiwiSaver contributions. So just little things like that to say, we recognize you’re going to be out for a year, but we still think it’s really important for you to grow that. And in the UK, EasyJet. So they disclose that they had like a 50% gender pay gap, which was basically just all the pilots or most of the pilots are men, and most of the cabin crew are women. And so as well as the kind of, you know, the more traditional thing of like, well, we’re going to try and increase the number of new female pilots, that we’re recruiting. They’ve also worked with Girlguiding UK to develop a badge in aviation to try and get girls to think about flying as a career from a really young age. So just kind of creative stuff like that.

Jade 18:33

That’s really cool.

Rebekah 18:34

Yeah, I thought that was a fascinating story

Jade 18:37

It is! Yeah, I’m quite interested in what you think the government’s role should be in things like the gender pay gap,if any?

Rebekah 18:43

There’s part of a role for government. And as part of a role for kind of society. I think the thing, the thing for government, it’s you, you know, you want to try and get votes, right. But so you’ve got to be doing what the people want. And so it’s a question of like, is the government changing society’s mind or is society changing and then forcing the government to change? So I think the Equal Pay amendment that came in last year was a massive thing in terms of, actually we want to revalue skills that have normally been associated with female dominated things. I think the kind of training and education space is probably one best suited for government. So what kind of scholarships can we have to encourage more women into STEM more women into those higher paying industries? What kind of kind of parental leave and flexible working arrangements can we encourage and endorse? Yeah, those kind of things. And I think, as Sagrika said earlier, there’s stuff that as individuals we can do in the meantime, in terms of, you know, trying to negotiate our pay, even if it’s scary, researching what were worth applying for jobs, even if we don’t meet all of the requirements, you know, sharing parental leave, all that kind of stuff.

Sagrika 19:56

Do you think it’s possible to live in a world where the gender pay gap doesn’t exist? Or if not, what should we actually be striving for?

Rebekah 20:03

I think that we should be aiming for a gap that’s as small as possible. So we’re never going to be 100% perfect, but I do think we should be striving to be there and aiming to be at zero, even if you know, it’s sort of 1% or, or whatever I think how we get there is just as important as getting there. So if you reduce the gap just by paying men less, then that doesn’t actually solve the issue of a woman’s work being undervalued, it just means that men suddenly lose out as well. So I think I personally want to live in a world where we are striving for, you know, a 0% gender pay gap. And, I think, you know, as I said earlier, once we have that kind of small pay gap, also to be looking at other pay gaps that exist in terms of ethnicity, or LGBT pay gaps and looking at how they can also be reduced.

Sagrika 20:57

Amazing. Sounds like a world I’d like to live in. So Becky, if we want to find out more information about Closing the Gap and the work you’re doing? Where do we go?

Rebekah 21:08

So if anyone is interested in knowing anything further, our website is www.closingthegap.co.nz. We’re also on Instagram and Facebook and you can sign up to our mailing list to get a newsletter.

Sagrika 21:20

Thanks for being on the podcast Becky. BetterSaver is here to make the Kiwisaver part of your financial journey a little easier. For more info, check us out at bettersaver.co.nz

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