BBC's pay release prompts eyeballing at NZ companies

Women's Minister Paula Bennett is calling for private sector companies to step up and take a long hard look at how they hire and pay their female employees.

It comes as the BBC reveals the salaries of its richest stars, igniting a gender pay gap debate.

The highest paid by far is former Top Gear presenter Chris Evans.  But instead of being embarrassed, he says it's right that the figures should be published.

"We are the ultimate public company, I think," Evans said.

"And therefore I think that it's probably, on balance, right and proper that people know what we get paid."

The UK Government ordered the BBC to publish the amounts it pays its top earners to put pressure on the broadcasting corporation to keep its salaries in check.

But what's shocked people more than the pay packets, is the pay gap. Its top five earning females take home a third of what the top five men earn.

In New Zealand the gender pay gap is 12 percent, and it's remained unchanged for more than a decade.

On Thursday Women's Minister Paula Bennett issued a challenge for private sector businesses.

"Make a plan closing a gap," she said.

"Understand your business, understand that you might have a gender pay gap, then do something about it."

All too often there's an overrepresentation of women in lower paid jobs, and an overrepresentation of men in higher paid jobs.

Paula Bennett's seven-point guide for employers includes a gender audit, normalising flexible hours and maximising female talent.

"Don't accept shortlists for senior roles or for board appointments that don't have women on them and then choose the best person for the job."

She's not planning to name and shame those companies who don't step up. There is no target or new legislation to close the pay gap.

But equal pay advocate and partner at Ernst and Young, Susan Doughty, says there's hope.

"We've had an Equal Pay Act for over 50 years in New Zealand, we still haven't closed our pay gap, so there's a lot of work to be done," she told Newshub.

"But I think for the first time we're starting to see a ground swell of commitment by organisations to making change."

Which is good for business, and more to the point - it's fair.