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OPINIONPoliticsAugust 15, 2023

Gender pay gap reporting puts Pākehā women ahead of Māori and Pacific workers


Comparing men’s and women’s pay as a whole ignores the fact that Pākehā women are already paid more than Māori and Pacific men, writes Lisa Meto Fox.

On Friday, Labour announced its intention to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting. An announcement this late in the term essentially amounts to a Labour Party election policy. The policy outlines mandatory pay gap reporting will start with large businesses (250 or more staff), and after four years will include those with 100 staff or more. Labour has said it will investigate whether or not it can include ethnic pay gap reporting in the regime. 

Many have been touting Friday’s announcement as a “win for women”. But which women? Because when we look at the numbers, not all women are suffering the same levels of inequity. In fact, Pākehā women are facing less inequity than Māori and Pacific men. Some might think that’s not a very feminist thing of me to say. But again, what feminism is it that you speak of? Because for me, an intersectional feminist, Friday was not a win. Friday was the prioritisation of a group who already hold a lot of power and privilege, over those who do not. The effect of Friday’s announcement was to prioritise professional Pākehā women over working class Maori, Pacific and ethnic minority women. 

In 2021, for every $1.00 Pākehā men earned, Pākehā women earned $0.89, Māori men earned $0.86, Māori women earned $0.81, Pacific men earned $0.81 and Pacific women earned $0.75.

By simply calculating the gender pay gap, rather than the gender and ethnic pay gaps, it will mask the ethnic pay gap faced by Māori and Pacific people. By using the general category of “men” as the comparison when calculating the gender pay (instead of just Pākehā men) it decreases the gender pay gap overall. This will result in employers being less able to target initiatives to close pay gaps where they are most needed.

Occupational distribution is contributing to pay gaps. Pākehā men and women generally hold more senior positions in organisations than Māori and Pacific people. In 2018, only 8.5 % of Pacific men and 8.1% of Pacific women held manager roles compared to 21.3% of Pākehā men and 14% of Pākehā women. 

Yes, companies may be compelled to close the gender pay gap if they have to report it, but it will benefit Pākehā women first and foremost.

The ethnic pay gaps (Data and visual: Pacific Pay Gap Inquiry)

We see this all throughout history. In the United States, the white suffrage movement told black women to wait their turn for their vote. In fact, they told black suffragettes that they were not welcome at the Washington Woman Suffrage Procession, afraid that being photographed side by side with black suffragettes would make their cause less palatable to those in power. 

Friday’s announcement reminded me of this history. A history of non-white women (and people) being told to wait: wait while we progress, wait while white women achieve equal pay with white men, while brown women (and people) continue to lag behind. Meanwhile those brown women and people continue doing the essential work which allows middle-class women to achieve equal pay with white men – childcare, cleaning, supermarket work and so on. But why should we wait? 

A commitment to exploring ethnic pay gap reporting is contained in the Labour policy. Associate minister for workplace relations and safety Priyanca Radhakrishnan was at pains to differentiate gender pay gap reporting from ethnic pay gap reporting, stating on Morning Report that while two thirds of OECD countries report on gender pay gaps, the same is not true of ethnic pay gaps. Further investigation needs to be done. 

South Africa, Ontario (Canada), California (US) and Scotland currently have ethnic pay gap reporting. According to the Mind the Gap registry, ANZ Bank New Zealand, KPMG, PWC and a number of other organisations report their gender and ethnic pay gaps. Other countries are measuring ethnic and gender pay gaps. So why can’t the Labour Party have the courage to include ethnic pay gap reporting in its policy?

Radhakrishnan has stated that the first draft of the bill will be ready early next year, with its details yet to be worked out. So why kick ethnic pay gaps down the road? Why not work out the detail of how to implement ethnic pay gap reporting, while also working out the detail of how to implement gender pay gap reporting? 

It appears Labour made a political calculation. A calculation that gender pay gaps are more important than ethnic pay gaps. A calculation that Māori, Pacific and ethnic minority groups can and will wait. A calculation that the majority of women in New Zealand are Pākehā and will therefore see this announcement as a win rather than showing solidarity with Māori and Pacific people by saying ethnic pay gap reporting is a bottom line – not a nice-to-have or an optional extra. I hope Labour has miscalculated and that should they win a third term, Pākehā women will show their solidarity with Māori, Pacific and ethnic minority women when it comes to equal pay for equal work.

Keep going!