The gender pay gap: 'Unexplainable factors' to blame

Women are consistently still paid less than their male counterparts and it's a result of both conscious and unconscious bias against women in the workforce, new research says.

There's been a myriad of excuses to explain why women are paid 12 percent less than men - time out of the workforce to have babies, women are less educated, they only work part-time.

New research from the Ministry for Women 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.

And not only does the gender pay gap widen to around 20 percent in higher paying industries, the proportion of the gap that's unexplained becomes even bigger too.

The gender pay gap: 'Unexplainable factors' to blame

For women on lower incomes including Maori, Pacific, migrant and solo mothers, factors such as type of work, family responsibilities, education and age remain important, as well as conscious and unconscious bias.

For women on higher incomes, assumptions about women in work are important, including unconscious bias when making decisions about attracting, recruiting, training and promoting staff.

Minister for Women Paula Bennett says she's disappointed at the findings - and says closing the gender pay gap is one of her top priorities.

Despite the fact that women are more educated, are entering traditionally male-dominated fields, and are participating more in the Labour market - 84 percent of the reason for the pay gap is down to unexplained factors.

"That means its bias against women, both conscious and unconscious. It's about the attitudes and assumptions of women in the workplace, it's about employing people who we think will fit in and when you have a workforce of men, particularly in senior roles, then it seems likely you're going to stick with the status quo - whether they do that intentionally or just because 'like attracts like'," Ms Bennett said in her speech at the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand conference on Tuesday.

"It's because there is still a belief that women will accept less pay than men, they don't know their worth and aren't as good at negotiating."

Ms Bennet said it was "no longer acceptable" to keep ignoring the issue.

"It is simply unacceptable that women who are as productive and contribute so significantly to business and the economy are paid less than men."

Ms Bennett says in just about every speech she's given as Minister for Women she is asked why there's no Ministry for Men.

"My answer is simple. When we have closed the gender pay gap and women aren't predominantly the victims of domestic and sexual violence I will look to close down the Ministry for Women," she said.

"I engage with businesses all the time and I know employers don't set out to create a pay gap. They want to treat staff fairly.

"It would be great to see employers to look at doing a gender pay audit. I'd also encourage them to look at whether women are being promoted into positions they deserve, implement solutions including rigorous recruitment processes, and clear career progression criteria."

Green spokesperson for women Jan Logie says Ms Bennett's speech is underwhelming "hot air" and the Government needs to take action.

"For Paula Bennett's first speech as Minister of Women, it would have been great for her to announce what her Government will actually do to ensure that women get paid more."

"New Zealand's lowest paid workers, through their unions, have been calling for action for years now," Ms Logie says.

"If Paula Bennett is serious about the gender pay gap being one of her top priorities as Minister, then she needs to take bold, meaningful action.

"We've tried the hands-off approach of just encouraging businesses, but it hasn't worked."

Ms Logie will introduce a member's Bill on Wednesday that would see gender pay transparency indexes published.

"If Paula Bennett is serious about wanting more companies to pay women more, then she can support my Bill immediately."

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