8 March 2023 is International Women’s Day. It is a day to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history.
This year’s theme set by UN Women is a forward-looking one: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future. It focuses on the representation of women in STEM industries and looks at how technology and education can be used to include and empower women.
The case for change
Taking the digital and technology sector as an example, some data from out of New Zealand indicates that a total of 82% of graduates in information and communication technologies are men.  While this number may fluctuate over time, it has important implications for the sector – if fewer women are entering the sector, there will be fewer women retained and therefore fewer women in leadership positions.
The issue of gender imbalance is not limited to the tech industry. Women tend to be under-represented within higher-level jobs across New Zealand. It is clear change is needed, with input from every level of society, to create equal opportunities regardless of gender.
Where do I start?
Addressing the issue of gender inequality requires a multi-faceted approach that includes increasing representation, promoting equal pay, and combating discrimination and gender bias in the workplace. In this article, we explore the different ways employers can innovate to promote equal opportunities in the workplace.
Increasing representation through recruitment and internal processes
Organisations can begin promoting equal opportunities in the workplace at the pre-employment stage. Review your recruitment processes and panels and aim to eliminate unconscious bias in the selection process. This could be done by:
- creating transparent and objective criteria to support decision-making;
- making decisions as a group, or ensuring decisions are reviewed before finalised; and
- reflecting on the language used in job adverts and descriptions.
Teams that are not currently hiring can participate by reviewing:
- the demographics of the workforce;
- the opportunities for support, mentoring and up-skilling currently offered (and to whom);
- the pathways to leadership within the organisation and the skills, attributes and efforts that are rewarded; and
- the values of the organisation, and how they promote diversity.
Closing the gender pay gap
Employers can play a leading role in promoting equality by taking steps to close the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap refers to the difference between female earnings and male earnings for a role requiring a similar education and skillset.
Under the Equal Pay Act 1972, employers have an obligation to ensure that there is no differentiation in pay between male and female employees who perform the same or substantially similar work on the basis of their sex.
Despite this, in 2022, New Zealand’s national gender pay gap was 9.2%.
The following are some of the steps employers can take to bridge the gender pay gap:
- conduct a pay audit to determine whether pay gaps exist (this includes looking into how decisions about pay are made);
- establish clear and consistent criteria to reduce bias when reviewing performance;
- ensure women have equal opportunities for advancement;
- increase transparency around pay and how pay increases are determined; and
- promote flexibility in your workplace.
Flexibility in the workplace is seen as increasingly more desirable. What that flexibility looks like will depend on the nature of the work. However, employers offering flexibility should also that flexibility allows employees to balance their other commitments with work rather than hindering their career progression.
In some industries or professions, the percentage of female workers has increased over time. Historically, when this has happened, the professions are seen to become ‘feminised’ and lose prestige or value. With this comes a decline in income. The starkest example of this is the teaching profession. The teaching profession was once dominated by men and a highly respected and well-paid profession. Yet, while the profession remains vital and important, teachers are not paid relative to professions requiring similar qualification and registration.
In New Zealand, employees are empowered to raise pay equity claims with their employer if:
- they perform work that is (or was historically) female dominated; and
- they can demonstrate that work is currently (or was historically) undervalued.
The outcome of a pay equity claims process may be an agreement on a minimum industry-wide rate of pay.
Benefits of closing the gender pay and employment equality for employers
Employers committed to closing the gender pay and employment gap are more likely to have less issues with staff retention. Being an innovator in this space makes good business sense. Providing and promoting equal opportunities for a diverse workforce will likely lead to a higher number of employees feeling valued, respected. Staff retention and productivity will also increase.
This International Women’s Day let’s celebrate what those before us have done and continue to make changes in the workplace that empower and encourage gender equality at all levels.