Gender pay gap: The argument for discussing pay with colleagues

A union is encouraging employees to have the somewhat taboo conversation with their colleagues about how much they earn.

In New Zealand, evidence suggests men on the whole still earn more than their female counterparts. Researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research studied analysis of New Zealand wage and productivity data and discovered women often earn less for doing exactly the same job.

"For work of the same value the average woman in the private for-profit sector was paid only 84 cents for every $1 paid to the average man," researcher and Victoria University lecturer Isabelle Sin wrote for The Conversation.

The argument for

E tū national campaigns director Annie Newman told Newshub New Zealand has "completely failed" at pay transparency, and fully supports workers taking matters into their own hands.

"I think there is fear, and a culture of secrecy that fed that fear."

Ms Newton says the individualising of employment relations on individual contracts has "set worker against worker".

"That created an atmosphere of competition, suspicion and a personalised response to rates of pay. There's a good old-fashioned divide.

"If you think you're doing well in your pay you don't want to tell others in case you lose something. Employers like to have control over how much they pay and who they pay it to."

She says it's hard to get a gauge on the gender pay gap here because individual companies don't have to give up salary information.

"If they think it's fair and reasonable, let us see what that is."

The argument against

Would you want to know if a colleague was earning more than you? Michelle Batchelor, managing director of Preston & Blythe, says she can't see "any positive outcome".

"Realistically, whether it's opposite gender or not, if you are working for a company feeling valued and then find out somebody in same job is getting paid more than you, everything that you felt valued about you'll start to question," she told Newshub.

Mr Batchelor says you could just end up resentful.

"I'm sure they're probably instances where men are paid more than women with same skills and experience. But people jump to the gender conclusion so just be a little bit careful. It could be because of a number of other things he's bringing to the table. There are other elements to consider.

"A better way of doing that is doing research online about similar roles. You should be looking around what the market's paying in terms of what's being advertised."

How to ask for a pay rise?

But if you do ask, and find a discrepancy, Ms Batchelor says to be careful how you approach the situation with management.

"Don't approach it as a 'why are they getting paid more', but 'help me understand'.

"Say you found out somebody doing a similar role is getting paid more and ask what you can do to match it. It could be additional training [or] additional competence that you need.

"But people really need to ask themselves: Am I happy in my job? Is having this conversation going to disrupt that?"

Ms Newman agrees it's a delicate situation but says there's strength in numbers.

"The only way to have conversations of that kind is by bringing people together in groups. Evidence would suggest that individuals have no power in the workplace.

"Unions are the critical watchdog on pay and mechanisms for bringing about change. By discussing it we drive up a conversation that leads to political or legislative change.

"Call for kinds of rules that will normalise fairness and equity."