Women run the country but it doesn't show in pay packets

By Simon Collins
Published May 28th 2005 in The New Zealand Herald
Thirty years of feminism have transformed New Zealand, but below the very top level, men remain in charge.

Figures collected for the Weekend Herald by the Ministry of Women's Affairs show that women have moved into paid work in massive numbers since a United Women's Convention in Wellington in 1975. Back then, women accounted for 32 per cent of total employment; now it's almost half (46 per cent).

But when 500 women meet for a new national convention in Wellington next weekend to review 30 years of progress, the score will be mixed.

The Governor-General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Parliament's Speaker and the head of the biggest company on the sharemarket, Telecom, are all women.

And a World Economic Forum survey published last week placed New Zealand first in the world for women's political empowerment.

But the same survey put New Zealand 47th out of 58 countries for women's "economic opportunity" because of our minimal 13 weeks' paid parental leave at a low maximum pay rate of $347 a week before tax, a relative lack of state-provided childcare, and employers' views.

In New Zealand business, men still rule.

Women are the chief executives of just five of 179 companies on the sharemarket.

That's better than zero in 1975. But women still hold only 5 per cent of all directorships of sharemarket companies, compared to 8.4 per cent in Australia and 13.6 per cent in the United States.

Homeware group Briscoes is the sole New Zealand listed company with a woman chairing the board: Roseanne Meo.

Women still earn less than men. Their hourly pay rates jumped from 72 per cent of men's rates to 78 per cent in the first five years after the Equal Pay Act of 1972, but have taken 28 years since to creep up to 86 per cent.

Women's numbers in Parliament also jumped to 31 per cent in the first election under mixed-member proportional representation in 1996, but have dropped back to 28 per cent.

Female mayors and councillors peaked at 26 per cent and 32 per cent respectively in 1998, but slipped to just 12 per cent and 29 per cent in last year's council elections.

Equal Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor, a former editor of the Sunday News, said when she looks at her former profession 20 years on, she doesn't see many more senior women than in her day.

"When I last counted they were only five out of 29 newspaper editors. In 30 years, it's slow going."

Roseanne Meo said it seemed with a few women in high profile positions, "it's a bit like we feel we have done all we have to do in promoting women".

However, she saw no barriers to women getting on to boards if they got the right experience.

Women's place
  • 5pc of directors of sharemarket companies
  • 28pc of MPs
  • 12pc of mayors
  • 86pc of men's hourly pay