Fast Four Questions: Sean Molloy, Principal Policy Advisor, Ministry for Women

Sean Molloy is a Principal Policy Analyst at the Ministry for Women, specialising in policy advice around the gender pay gap.  Sean’s work at the Ministry has spanned a number of key economic areas for women, including the government’s response to pay equity claims, women’s contributions to labour productivity, and barriers to progression into leadership roles.  

Prior to joining the Ministry, Sean worked as a screenwriter and journalist. He continues to work creatively and lives in Wellington with his wife Helen Rickerby, a poet and publisher.

Sean spoke at our July D&I Meetup, where we heard from speakers with a range of perspectives on the context and origins of the gender pay gap, and how the gap can be addressed by New Zealand organisations. We grabbed a few minutes with Sean to find out more.

Global Women: Why is there a difference in pay between men and women in New Zealand?

Sean Molloy: There’s a 12 percent difference in women and men’s earnings (the gender pay gap) across the New Zealand economy, comparing median hourly earnings. Differences in pay between men and women are caused by a range of factors. These include:

Sean Molloy for web

Sean Molloy

  • that female-dominated occupations and industries tend to be lower paid than male-dominated ones (occupational segregation)
  • more men than women hold senior higher-paid positions (vertical segregation)
  • women are more likely to work part-time than men, and part-time work is lower paid on average
  • differences in behaviours and choices between men and women; and conscious and unconscious bias.

Recent research indicates that the majority (80 percent) of the gender pay gap is now driven by harder to measure factors, like bias – impacting negatively on women’s recruitment and pay advancement – and differences in men’s and women’s choices and behaviours.

GW: There are many different terms to describe inequity of pay between men and women, and they’re often used interchangeably. What do the different terms mean, and what do they apply to?

SM: There are a wide range of terms used! The Ministry for Women defines the most common terms the following ways:

  • gender pay gap – gap between the average earnings of women compared with men
  • equal pay – same pay for the same job, where any remaining pay differences are not based on gender
  • pay equity – the same pay for different work of equal value. The Government (and others) are using ‘pay equity’ to describe work to address undervaluation of female-dominated occupations due to historical discrimination. This is what is meant in the proposed legislative changes in the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill, for example.
  • However many commentators use the term ‘pay equity’ in a broader sense, to mean that gender doesn’t affect what people are paid. When used in this sense, the term also includes the concept of equal pay as well.

GW: What factors have helped narrow the pay gap since the passing of the 1972 Equal Pay Act, what’s caused this rate of change to stall?

SM: Equal pay legislation was passed for the state sector in 1960 (the Government Service Equal Pay Act), and for all employees with the Equal Pay Act 1972. This successfully lifted women’s wages, and the gap between men and women’s hourly rate reduced to 22 percent by 1985.

The gap continued to reduce until around 2003, and it appears to have stalled around 12 percent since then. The Ministry thinks that increases in women’s education and overall time in the workforce, and more women entering professional and management roles, made a difference to closing the gap between 1985 and 2003. However it appears that the harder-to-measure factors are now driving the remaining gender pay gap. That’s why the Ministry is encouraging employers to close their own gender pay gaps and look at what’s causing any gap inside their organisation.

GW: What’s the New Zealand government doing to address the gender pay gap?

SM: Action is needed by employers, workers, career advisors, business leaders, and employee groups such as unions, not just government. However, the Government has a number of initiatives including:

  • the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill which establishes a process for employees to follow if they feel they are not being paid what their job is worth due to historical gender discrimination
  • requiring public service organisations to report on their gender pay gaps and include information on the action they are taking to address them in their four-year strategic plans
  • extending paid parental leave and also introducing ‘Keeping in Touch’ days for parents taking parental leave. This is intended to reduce the loss of experience and development opportunities often faced by women who take leave to look after children.
  • ensuring all employees now have the statutory right to request flexible working arrangements, and all employers have a duty to consider any requests seriously. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has more information at its website, and the Ministry for Women has good examples of employers embracing flexible working arrangements on its website.
  • increasing women’s participation in high-demand occupations. This will contribute to reducing the gender pay gap for women on lower incomes, including Māori, Pacific, migrant and sole mothers. For example, Māori and Pasifika Trades Training consortia have set targets for women training for high demand trades through the scheme.