Ethnic women have a particular disadvantage: Mai Chen’s solutions

Ethnic women have a particular disadvantage in New Zealand, says Mai Chen, because gender and ethnicity compound.

Speaking at the YWCA equal pay seminar last week, Mai Chen (prominent lawyer, founder of New Zealand Asian Leaders and inaugural chairperson of Global Women) highlighted the double disadvantage people have if they sit at the intersection between gender and race – and that it’s even more severe if it intersects with age, sexuality or disability.

“In 2015, the biggest elephant in the room is the growing inequality in pay for coloured women,” says Chen.

Chen says according to the data, white males are paid the most, followed by white women, followed by ethnic men then ethnic women.

The Ministry for Women states there was a gender pay gap of 9.9 percent in 2014. New Zealand’s ranking in the World Economic Forum gender pay gap list has dropped from 7th place in 2013 to 13th in 2014. A report released by the Human Rights Commission in June showed that middle-aged white men were paid a median hourly rate of $28.77, whereas Pasifika women of the same age are earning just $17.32.

Alongside this, Chen says the Human Rights Commission has recently seen a big spike in racial discrimination complaints.

She says these issues need to be addressed before they become a problem, considering New Zealand’s huge and ongoing demographic change. Chen says already 56 percent of the talent pool in Auckland is made up of foreigners and their New Zealand-born children.

“The transformation is happening now – there will be a majority of minorities. It is predicted that by the 2030s, 50 percent of the population will identify themselves as Asian, Maori, or Pasifika, and their profile will be younger than that of the Anglo-Saxons,” she says.

“The world is trending towards globalisation and urbanisation. This means pay equity is increasingly not just a gender issue, it’s more complicated with the gender-ethnicity intersection especially when you consider unconscious bias.”

Suggested solutions

1. Increased visibility of the issue of workplace discrimination:

“The #1 issue around the country for the super diverse is they and their New Zealand-born kids can’t get jobs commensurate with their experience. So we’re wasting lots of talent, which prevents New Zealand from fulfilling its potential. Asians are more likely to experience this – but there’s a lack of data on the issue which makes it difficult to fix.” Chen says through her Superdiversity Stocktake, the Superdiversity Centre for Law Policy and Business* (which she founded) has been interviewing a large number of businesses and government, and found that many people are not aware of the problem – and many are still recruiting for IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) but not CQ (cultural intelligence). She says many still don’t know how to read foreign CVs and will eliminate the candidate from the get-go because of a preference to ‘use what they’ve already seen work’.

Unconscious bias is also evident in mentorship – for example, often senior staff is less likely to take ethnic minorities under their wing like they would for others “because they remind them of their younger selves.”

2. The best mentors for ethnic females are white males – in fact, white males were among Chen’s own own best mentors.

She says they can say things coloured women can’t say, and help them get to where they themselves are today. But they must understand cultural intelligence.

White females are the second most important advocates, because they have experienced bias and can see the bias coloured women suffer.

Coloured males are the third most important because they also shared the experience.

3. Law reform – Does the equal pay legislation need to be expanded to include gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality?

“New Zealand already has good laws, but we think about issues too narrowly… the time is right – New Zealand is super diverse now, we are at a tipping point.”

*Chen chairs the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business and is compiling a Superdiversity Stocktake of key statistics and analysis of Government and the business sector, in regards to New Zealand’s changing demographic profile. The Superdiversity Stocktake will review New Zealand’s law and policy settings to identify the key areas which are challenged by superdiversity, and what New Zealand’s current law and policy is doing to address those challenges. The Stocktake aims to ensure New Zealand sustainably benefits from the diversity dividend.