Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mind the gap

Yesterday was International Women's Day, and Minister of Women's Affairs Pansy Wong used it to highlight the gender pay-gap. According to a new study of income differences among new university graduates by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, discrimination begins almost immediately, with a pay gap of up to six percent within a year of graduation, rising to as much as twenty percent after five years. And this in the very area - university graduates - where you would expect the income gap to be the smallest. Because it is so soon after graduation, the right's favoured explanation - "time off to have kids" - doesn't wash. This is about discrimination, pure and simple.

So what to do about it? Discrimination on the basis of gender is already illegal, and victims of such discrimination can go to the Employment Relations Authority or Human Rights Tribunal for a remedy. But in order to do that, they need to know they are being discriminated against - which in a society where how much people are paid is considered private (or worse, protected by secrecy clauses prohibiting any discussion or comparison), is a bit of a problem.

One small solution is forced disclosure: force companies to publish headline gender-pay information (with more information e.g. a breakdown by profession or age in larger organisations) so we can see what they're doing. Then the onus will be on them to explain and justify or correct any gap. It would be a very simple law change, and I've drafted it here. Any takers?