There are more men named David running NZX-listed firms than there are women.

There are more men named David running NZX-listed firms than there are women, of any name. Also more Marks, Christophers and Michaels. When it comes to Chairmen of NZX-listed firms, then it’s Peters, Davids, Johns and Christophers at the top of the list, followed by women of any name.

I collated the data and wrote about it for my university’s annual “Future NZ” magazine, which is a joint publication with the NZ Herald. The full article is available here: Who’s running New Zealand’s companies?

New Zealand is of course very small, so the data could be distorted easily. It could be for example, that if I had counted things a little differently, or chosen a different time period, or looked at say the Deloitte Top 200, that I would have gotten a different result. Perhaps it might have been James, Josh and Ben at the top of the list. But I don’t think the overall pattern would have changed. When it comes to business in New Zealand, it’s men who are running the place, and it’s very hard for women to get a look in at all.

I think there are ways of changing this, starting with raising awareness of the problem, and then making positive steps to make a difference. The Ministry for Women runs a nominations service to facilitate the appointment of women to state sector boards and committees: perhaps it could be expanded to provide a register of board-ready women that private sector firms could use too.

And yes, lack of diversity in the top level management of New Zealand business is a problem. The research is very clear: people make better decisions in more diverse groups.

Talking about pay equity

I was on Nights on Radio NZ last night, talking about pay equity.

The podcast of the talk is available here: Pundit: Feminist thought

As usual, I put together a set of notes for Bryan Crump, together with links to relevant articles. I’ve reproduced them below, with some extra notes.

Pay equity – discussion notes for Radio NZ Nights on Monday 13 October

Problem – women’s wages lagging behind men’s wages

NZ evidence – depends how you measure it – somewhere between 10% and 14%.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs gender pay gap data

Over the past few years, the gap between women’s and men’s wages in New Zealand has hovered around 10%. It got down to as low as 9.3% in 2012, but it’s gone back up to around 10% in the last couple of years.

The most recent information I could find puts the gender pay gap in NZ at about 14% – Radio NZ story from 4 October on the gender pay gap.

But we compare quite well to the US – the gender pay gap there is about 23% for full time workers (ref).

In Australia, one CEO who recognises that there is a pay gap got into trouble when he said that:

by hiring women, he got better-qualified employees to whom he was able to give more responsibility. “And [they were] still often relatively cheap compared to what we would’ve had to pay someone less good of a different gender,” he concluded. To illustrate his point he showed a slide that said: “Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper.”

What causes it?

Standard explanations – caring duties, time out for pregnancy/ childcare, lack of flexible work, occupational segregation, experience, education. But research shows that even when you account for all of that, a pay gap remains. See NZ Herald – the true reasons behind the gender pay gap.

Some evidence that I find interesting, given that I started out as an accountant – men in accountancy with less than five years experience earn about $3,600 more than their female counterparts (Radio NZ story). At that stage of people’s careers, explanations based around pregnancy and childcare don’t seem to be quite so relevant.

What can be done about it?

Take a pay equity case, as Kristine Bartlett has done in NZ.

Encourage women to negotiate for higher wages but that’s a double edged sword.

Women earn less than men because they are seen as pushovers when they don’t negotiate hard and are seen as “ball-breakers” when they do, a psychologist says.

Or… we could always cut men’s wages!

Some other references:
A piece I wrote for the Dom Post about the gender pay gap a few years ago:
Isn’t it time to fix the pay gap?

Dr Jackie Blue on pay equity – Bridging the gender pay gap: Pay-up time at public service

A couple of research reports on the gender pay gap.
What causes the gender wage gap, from the Center for American Progress

Explaining the wage gap, from the American National Women’s Law Center.

How to eat a Choco-ade

First of all, you buy a packet or two of Choco-ade biscuits.

Two packets of Choco-ade biscuits

Then you select one.

One Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: round biscuit with fluted shortcake edges, topped with chocolate)

You nibble away the shortcake edges, so that just the bottom layer of shortcake is left under the topping.

Nibbled Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: base of Choco-ade biscuit, showing shortcake, hints of jam under it, and edges of chocolate topping)

Then you lick off the jammy filling, and eat the circle of chocolate.

Chocolate and jam from the Choco-ade biscuit

(Description: round of chocolate with bits of jam on it)

I can’t show you the eaten biscuit, because, well, it’s eaten.

The last step: you think carefully about whether or not you should eat another one. You need to be careful about this, because eating two at once is really half a Choco-ade too much, as you know from previous experience.

You haven’t been able to go through this process for twenty years! But thanks to Griffin’s and one woman who campaigned for the return of Choco-ades, now you can. Amber Johnson, I am very grateful to you.


Griffin’s has done a stunning job on the relaunch of Choco-ade biscuits. There were big stories in the major daily newspapers on Monday morning, and a segment on a popular news show on TV3 on Monday evening. The first batch of the biscuits is being auctioned on Trade-Me (NZ’s on-line auction site), with the proceeds going to Amber Johnson’s chosen charity, Plunket. The biscuits weren’t in my local supermarket on Monday, but they were there by Tuesday, and apparently they are available all over the country now, so Griffin’s got the logistics right too. It’s all very well done feel good stuff. Also, the biscuits taste delicious.

But buried in the story in the NZ Herald is a clue about what’s really going on.

Mrs Johnson has been involved in the production, flying up to Auckland to take part in a taste test at Griffin’s Papakura factory.

She was keen to make sure the new biscuit is as close to the original as possible, especially as they are now manufactured by machines, not handmade as they were in the 1980s.

They were dropped because they were too expensive to make, and now they’re back because they can be made by machine. No doubt Amber Johnson’s campaign came along at the right time, and helped to persuade Griffin’s that there was a market for the biscuits. But ultimately, it was about the economics of making them.

And the price? At my supermarket, $5.29 for a pack of 12. Ouch.

Paid parental leave

Cross posted

A local journalist contacted me for comment on paid parental leave.

Parental leave ‘affordable’

A Manawatu academic and advocate for women’s rights has slammed the government for threatening to veto moves to extend paid parental leave, accusing it of ignoring the needs of babies.

Professor Deborah Russell, a lecturer in accountancy at Massey University, working mother and a feminist blogger said while affordability was an issue, there was always a way if the need was great enough.

“We need to have a think about what are the important things to afford and at the moment we are not very good at directing funds towards small children.”

Dr Russell said if parental leave was extended it might encourage fathers to share more of the load of early childcare, giving them a chance to bond better with their children in the early stages of development.

“Women normally take the parental leave and the childcare duties and that can have a long term impact on their careers. If we extend paid parental leave to six months men might take it up or share the leave and so we lose that gendered dimension.”

Just to be clear, I’m not actually a professor, and given that the paper contacted me, rather than me contacting the paper, that word “slammed” is exciting, but perhaps not quite accurate. However, the journalist represented my views very fairly indeed, and captured the two ideas I most wanted to get across.

1. Childcare is heavily gendered, with women more-or-less always being responsible for it. This shortchanges both women and men. Women lose income and career progress, and men lose connection and confidence with small children. More paid parental leave might enable more men to share the childcare in those early weeks and months.

2. Saying paid parental leave is unaffordable only makes sense if we regard it as something that has to be funded in addition to everything else we already fund. If we were willing to re-examine all our existing spending commitments, such as giving farmers a tax break on the emissions trading scheme, and the lack of means testing around New Zealand superannuation, then it might turn out that more paid parental leave was affordable afterall.

The Sunday Star Times reported today that more and more women, and some men, are giving up paid work because childcare costs are simply too great.

Working mothers caught in childcare trap

The story is familiar: by the time a family pays for childcare in order to enable both parents to earn income, nothing is left over from that second income. It is simply too expensive. This certainly gels with my own experience, and with the experiences that other women have reported to me. Just last week, one of my cousins told me that she gave up on returning to her interesting job when she realised that she was looking around for cheaper childcare. Given the nature of her job, and the extent to which her partner travels, she needs bullet proof childcare, the sort where she is able to call half an hour before she is due to pick her kids up because an urgent task has come in. That kind of childcare is simply not available at a price where she will have money left over from her salary.

But there is a curious anomaly in our funding of childcare and education. As it turns out, for many parents, the turning point is when their children head off to school. School is virtually free, “donations” and stationery aside, and it is freely available to every five year old in the country. We fund reasonably comprehensive childcare and education for five year olds, but not four year olds. The anomaly exists for historical reasons, but it seems to me that it could usefully be reviewed. Just like our existing spending could usefully be reviewed, both a part of a national conversation about what kinds of support we want to see young families getting.

Rubbish collection and jobs

The National party has followed through on its election promises threats with a welfare policy that requires beneficiaries to look for jobs. As soon as their youngest child is five years old, sole parents will be required to look for part time work, or should they happen to have another baby while they are already on benefit, then back to work they go as when that baby is just one year old. It’s punitive.

Any job will do, no matter how ill paid. And many jobs are very lowly paid in New Zealand, because it’s always cheaper to put another labourer on the chain gang, instead of investing in better equipment, or more advanced technology, or anything that might have the sad consequence of requiring a more highly paid worker, because it takes greater skills to operate the machinery and do the job.

The extent to which New Zealand employers always prefer the low tech low waged route is made plain to me every week, when our household rubbish is collected. Here in Greenhills, a reasonably well off heartland New Zealand city, we put our rubbish out in specially marked plastic bags. The city council rubbish truck drives up and down the streets, one worker driving, and another running from house to house, picking up the bags of rubbish and throwing them into the truck. It’s a highly manual process. Alongside the rubbish collection we have a recycling collection: plastics and paper one week, and bottles the next. The plastics and paper go into a large wheelie bin, which is picked up by a hoist on a truck, and swung into place and then tipped so that the contents fall into the recyling truck. It’s a mechanised process which needs only one worker. However in the other week we put out our tub full of bottles, which is picked up manually, very much as the rubbish is.

So just as happens in any first world city, our rubbish and recyling is collected, but here, it’s mostly done by people in low wage jobs, because the process is highly manual.

Back in Adelaide, each week we would put out two bins, one larger one for recyling, and a smaller one for rubbish. The recycling bin was divided into two compartments, one for glass and the other for paper and plastic and tin. The recycling truck, driven by just one person, used a hook and hoist system to pick the bin up and empty it into the truck. The truck was so designed that as the bin was swung into place for emptying, glass was tipped into one part, and other recyclables into another. Our rubbish bin was likewise collected by a truck driven by just one worker, because the entire process of lifting and emptying the bin was automated. One worker, on higher wages, because the job she or he was doing was more skilled. And because wages are in general higher in Australia, it’s worthwhile for employers to invest in better plant and machinery, so they can get greater leverage out of their wages bill. That better plant and machinery leads to greater production per worker. It’s a virtuous cycle: higher wages leading to greater investment in better plant and machinery leading to greater production leading to higher wages.

Wages are low in New Zealand. So low that it is always cheaper to put on an extra worker instead of upgrading plant and machinery. Employers have no incentive to invest in new plant and equipment, because the same end can be achieved by adding another worker. And that has the advantage that when times are tough, the worker can be laid off, and the employer’s machinery isn’t lying idle. It’s a vicious cycle: low wages leading to less investment in plant and machinery, and even lower wages in bad times as workers get laid off.

And now National is driving more and more low wage workers into the job market. Yes, some of those sole parents will have valuable skills, but by definition, they are going to need flexible work where employers won’t mind too much if they have to leave at a moment’s notice to tend to sick children, or take time off to get to parent-teacher meetings, or only work between say nine and three, or take 12 weeks leave every year to cover school holidays. People who need to have work patterns that fit in with the needs of children very rarely have the ability to demand high wages as well as flexibility.

I begin to see a strategy for driving wages down even further, so that New Zealand can become an assembly line country. How’s that for a 21st century vision?

Lies, damned lies, and real estate agents’ phaffery

Competition hot in first-home property market

Apparently there are lots of buyers in the first home market, and not so many sellers, which is leading to competition for houses. In some cases, several offers are received on a property, so the potential buyers are in a competitive bidding situation. In these cases, rather than conducting a silent auction, each buyer is asked to submit an offer, and the seller chooses which offer she or he likes best. In effect, the purchase offer becomes a closed tender.

So what’s a buyer to do?

Kiri Barfoot, of Barfoot and Thompson, said prospective buyers needed to realise there was no room for negotiation after envelopes were sealed and buyers had to put their best offer forward.

Actually, that’s not true. There is more room for negotiation after the envelope is sealed, provided that the vendor chooses you as the people to talk to first.

Buyers need to do something a little more complicated than just putting in their best possible offer. They need to think about who else might be making an offer, and think about what the property is worth, and think about what they can afford, and put in an offer that puts them at the top of the list, so that they will be the person that the seller elects to negotiate with.

We have been in competitive offer situations several times, and each time, we have put in an offer. It’s never a final price. The vendor is still free to negotiate, and in some cases, she or he has elected to do so. A couple of times we were able to come to an agreement, but a couple of times, we walked away, because the vendor wanted more than we thought the property was worth. And at that stage, the vendor went back to the second highest offer.

So exactly why would real estate agents want to advise potential purchasers to make their *best* offer? Well, duh. Because they want to get the best possible price for the property, because then they earn more. Not necessarily a lot more, but once word gets round that they sell properties for outrageous prices, then they get more listings, and then they get more sales and they earn more again.

To be fair to real estate agents, they are supposed to work for the vendors. The people selling properties pay the agents’ fees, not the purchasers. But that should surely tell purchasers that it is not a good idea to take real estate agents’ advice about the best strategy for purchasing.

If only those poor people would stop breeding

Cross posted

The Welfare Working Group was established by Cabinet:

… to undertake an expansive and fundamental review of New Zealand’s welfare system. The Group’s primary task was to identify how to reduce long-term welfare dependency.

In the midst of the Welfare Working Group’s final report (downloadable from the Group’s homepage), there is a nasty jibe about poor people breeding.

For some people the idea that it is not appropriate to have further children while receiving welfare is a significant change in expectation and will require a very different pattern of welfare use. …We have found this issue difficult and have given careful consideration to our response. In the long term, the most positive measures to reduce the number of children born to parents relying on welfare payments is to provide more positive alternatives, especially for teen sole parents. The Working Group considers that a component of addressing this issue is providing all parents within the welfare system ready access to free long-acting reversible contraception. … A majority of members of the Working Group are also in favour of strong signals to parents that a welfare payment is intended to provide temporary support while they get back on their feet and into employment. … In practice, for most this means taking active steps to avoid pregnancy while receiving Jobseeker Support.

Welfare Working Group final report, p. 77

And if you do have the temerity to have another child while you are already on the benefit, then:

The Working Group suggests that if the changes to the work test requirements do not address the incentives to have additional children while receiving welfare assistance, then the Government may need to consider financial disincentives, say by withholding part or all of the extra payments that come with having an additional child.

Welfare Working Group final report, p. 78

By the way, that ‘contraception” is going to be “long-acting reversible contraception” (p. 77, plus footnote 65 on p. 77).

In other words, if you are on the benefit, the government is going to control your fertility.

Wealthy white people have always had a problem with poor people breeding. Many years ago, I watched a documentary by Deepa Dhanraj, “The Legacy of Malthus”, in which she argued that the (alleged) problem with the world’s population is not the number of children being born, but the distribution of resources. The documentary contained a couple of video clips that revolted me. Two movie stars, both well-fed are white, both with no particular concerns about how to feed and clothe themselves and their children, appeared in commercials urging people to donate to the Population Institute. The Population Institute:

is an international non-profit that educates policymakers and the public about population, and seeks to promote universal access to family planning information, education, and services. Through voluntary family planning, we strive to achieve a world population in balance with a healthy global environment and resource base.

The donations were to enable the Population Institute to provide contraceptives to women in third world countries. A fine and noble purpose, on the surface, perhaps. But the subtext that I heard, loud and clear, was that wealthy white people who were already consuming far more than their share of the world’s resources, wanted all those poor brown people to stop breeding. The world would be a much better place for everyone, that is, for the wealthy white people, if poor brown people would stop causing all the problems.

And I am revolted by the wealthly, well-educated, well-resourced people who wrote the Welfare Working Group’s final report suggesting that all would be well in this country if only the poor people stopped breeding.

It turns out that the key to decreasing the size of the world’s population is not forcing people to use contraceptives, or to have just one child, but to educate and empower women. Ensure that women are educated, ensure that they have the resources and capability to build lives for themselves, and can sustain themselves and their children, and in time, the population will drop. The process is so well known that we have a name for it: “demographic transition.

Educating women is the critical factor in reducing the birth rate. Providing contraceptives turns out to be neither here nor there:

While the bomb has been largely defused, the implication remains that to bring growth down more rapidly we should do the only thing we can do now: fund and promote family planning programs among fast-growing populations. The rest is pie in the sky.

Our response is twofold. First, demographers will tell you that even if average family size in a fast-growing society were cut by half tomorrow, its population would not stop growing until well into the next century. So every solution, including family planning programs, is a long-term one; there are no quick fixes. The second part of our answer is more surprising: simply providing birth control technology through family planning programs doesn’t affect population growth all that much.

Individual women on the Domestic Purposes Benefit are not the same as populations. There is no ‘demographic transition’ for an individual. But ‘demographic transition’ does provide some clues. The key is to empower women, to ensure that they have the resources the need to obtain and retain a job. That means investing in education and training and childcare. It means pouring far more resources into schools for teenage parents, where young mothers can be sure that their children are being cared for while they finish their secondary education. It means enabling sole parents to access training grants, such as the grant that our Minister of Social Development used herself when she was a sole parent on the DPB. It means truly focusing on giving sole parents a helping hand. And that will be a complex and expensive solution.

Or we could just put all sole parents on the pill. Cheap, simple, and with that nice overtone of punishment.

And there’s a final sting in the tail. I know of no ‘long-acting, reversible contraception’ for men. The Welfare Working Group is making women into gatekeepers of the nation’s domestic purposes benefit bill. Except that last time I enquired into the matter, except in very unusual circumstances, it still took two people to make a baby. Why is is only women who are required to take responsibility for keeping the cost of the domestic purposes benefit down?