Accountants address gender pay gap

Gender Post It Notes
Kirsten Patterson, New Zealand Country Head, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, discovers that the gender pay gap in her industry is widening.
Male chartered accountants in New Zealand earn an average of $45,000 more than females, according to the latest pay survey across the industry.

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand’s Remuneration and Employment Survey shows the gender pay gap has reached its widest since 2010 – and has marginally worsened in the last 12 months.

Furthermore, the gap emerges in the first 5-8 years of experience and widens with time. There are still fewer women in more senior positions.

This year the survey dug deeper into the gender pay gap and discovered that around 20 per cent can be attributed to gender alone, irrespective of factors such as career breaks, roles and sector. Many of the excuses used to explain the gap can no longer disguise what is a highly unacceptable result.

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has just announced plans requiring large companies to disclose information on average pay of females and males – “to create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up.”

It’s great to see advances being made but it is a global issue far from being resolved and New Zealand is no exception.

The accounting sector is symptomatic of the issue here. The Ministry for Women reports that around two-thirds of our country’s university graduates are female yet the gender pay gap grows as qualification levels increase.

Despite equal pay legislation in the public and private sectors since 1972, the gender pay gap persists. NZ has one of the lowest gaps in the world at between 9-17 per cent over the last few years but, while some may say the residual New Zealand gender pay gap is a “first world problem” and close enough is close enough, we can do better.

The gender pay gap is a numerical issue; chartered accounting is a numerical profession. We can be the first profession in the country to overcome the gap – beginning with those first 5-8 years of post-entry.

How do we do this? Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has launched a diversity project in 2015 including sponsoring the ‘Diversity’ category for the 2015 Women of Influence programme – raising the profile of work by women in this and other diversity areas. Our desire is to support women who are stepping up and having a voice, in the hope their success directly impacts issues such as the gender pay gap.

We’re also leading public discussions, such as the gender pay gap group panel in Auckland recently, with Chartered Accountants ANZ women’s group and key figures such as the Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley. Our panel group also spoke of the importance of having the right mentors and sponsors early in a woman’s career – and knowing the difference between the two. Women need sponsors to advocate for them when advancement decisions are being made and mentors to work with them – advising, challenging them, building agility and skills.

Our diversity project includes the creation of a mentoring programme for young female chartered accountants, assisting them to know their value and helping them negotiate remuneration successfully. We aim to instil confidence and self-worth that will also work towards eliminating the gender pay gap in the accounting sector.

A big part of the solution is being up front and public about the issue – and maybe that means talking about what we earn. It’s not New Zealand’s cultural norm to declare our earnings but we should look to the US and UK; they are changing quickly with moves requiring gender pay information to be released across organisations.

Then there’s the uncomfortable issue of ‘unconscious gender biases’ – something our gender pay gap panel agreed everyone has even if they say they don’t. This requires a deliberate response by individuals and organisations to neutralise – challenging such assumptions.

The issue is bigger than salary alone. With a gender pay gap starting early and compounding significantly over the years, women are at a financial disadvantage for the long term, affecting areas such as KiwiSaver and superannuation.

Achieving pay equity in alignment with gender equality in the workplace is not about doing a favour to women. On the contrary, there are now many studies showing gender diversity and equality – as with cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity in the workplace – is better for business in our brave new global world.

One of the purposes of our Remuneration Survey is to help the chartered accounting profession know their worth, particularly our female members. As individuals, it’s up to us to champion the wider gender pay gap cause, female and male alike.

Source: New Zealand Herald



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