Gender pay gap: Women need to push themselves more - Don Brash

Former Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash has weighed in on the gender pay gap, making the controversial claim that women often choose lower paying jobs.

Mr Brash told The AM Show the real difficulty in New Zealand is convincing women to step up into higher roles.

"You've got some in industries like, for example, nursing which are primarily female-dominated, and some like police and firefighters which are predominantly male."

Research from the Ministry for Women says women are consistently still paid less than their male counterparts and it's a result of both conscious and unconscious bias.

On average women are paid 12 percent less than men - and excuses for that include time out of the workforce to have babies, women have in the past been less educated and they often only work part-time.

But the research shows those reasons only account for a small portion. Eighty percent of the gender pay gap is simply down to unexplainable factors, like bias, and differences in behaviour between men and women.

That gender pay gap widens to around 20 percent in higher paying industries.

As for disproportionate numbers of men and women on boards, Mr Brash agrees that's partly a "subconscious bias" and "partly historical".

"But there was a very interesting interview, I can't recall who did it, with a Canadian guy... who was debating exactly this issue.

"He said too many women choose voluntarily to do things which are nurturing, looking after family, looking after parents.

"It's their choice. It may be conditioned by the society we live in but they choose that."

Fellow panellist Lisa Owen then asked Mr Brash whether he was saying women aren't aggressive enough to be on boards.

"Frequently that's true," he replied.

"Some of them have a natural reluctance to push themselves forward."

He says he was "very keen" to get a female into the role of deputy governor during his time at the Reserve Bank, but only one of 51 applicants was female.

"I was keen to demonstrate my belief that women can do anything."

Mr Brash says it makes measuring pay equity "difficult" in New Zealand.

"There is some bias against women, no question about that. I've got a daughter. I can see that.

"But there's not much bias. And people are very conscious now of minimising that bias."