Gender equity is going backwards, says NZ diversity leader

Mercer's newly appointed gender equity lead believes organisations need to wake up to the issue

Gender equity is going backwards, says NZ diversity leader

As the fight for gender pay equity in New Zealand’s workforce heats up, several large businesses have signed an open letter calling on the government to introduce pay gap reporting legislation. Now, Mercer has taken the proactive approach of appointing a gender equity lead, the first role of its kind in the Kiwi finance sector.

Angela Meyer has only been in the role for four weeks, but she’s already got the background needed to empower women. Her business, Double Denim, focuses on helping business unlock the $28 trillion-dollar female economy. She also started the Gender Justice Collective, which successfully advocated for getting a national women’s health strategy in New Zealand, and Project Gender, which works towards giving single parents the opportunities they need to thrive.

Now she’s got her eyes set on mending the gender equity problem.

“I’ve had lots of different leadership roles but when I look at them all there’s always this thread of women and empowerment,” Meyer says. “How can we ensure that women’s lives are better and that we’re working to a more gender equal society?”

Read more: Will employers be forced to reveal their gender pay gap?

There are 114,000 more women than men in this country – that’s equivalent to a city the size of Tauranga. As such, women are certainly not niche, they’re the majority.

“I think that’s a really big mind shift piece that I’m hoping will bring about change,” says Meyer, who believes that despite being viewed as a global leader in this area, gender equality in New Zealand is going backwards.

“Women are really struggling, we have pay and equity gaps all over the place, so we really do need to shine a spotlight on it,” Meyer says. She believes there’s a general perception that “we’ve ticked that box already” – after all, we were the first to give women the vote, we’ve had pay equity legislation for 50 years, and we’ve had many female leaders.

“We’ve always been leaders in this space,” Meyer says. “In the 70s and 80s there was a really big push toward gender equality and so the perception is that we’ve already done this job. However, when you look at the research pieces I’ve been involved in, that equity is really going backwards and when you really start analysing, you see how big that gap is. There’s more of us, but we have these really systemic barriers that make it much more difficult for us to be able to thrive.”

Read more: Gender a career barrier for 90% of women, study suggests

A recent survey found that two-thirds of women say childcare is the biggest barrier for them going back to work, especially in the under-fives or under-threes. Childcare is very difficult to access and, in many cases, so expensive that it’s not worth staying in the workforce for.

“It’s a very, very big problem for a lot of women,” Meyer says. “So, let’s actually think about why that might be – as an employer, what are your childcare policies? If there’s a large number of your workforce that are struggling with childcare, why don’t you set up a creche?

“It’s a massive untapped area of business – do the audit, do the deep dive, see the opportunities, and then deliver whatever that strategy may be,” she says. “There’s so many ways that businesses can really engage women, so this is a dream job for me in the sense of being able to bring the intersectional lens that I bring, and looking at different policies, and helping businesses really think about what the opportunity is with women. Finally, I can be a professional feminist.”

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