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Getting to Equal: Accenture on overcoming the gender pay gap

25 Oct 2017

The gender pay gap in New Zealand, like many developed countries, has remained an intractable problem for too long.

With awareness of the issue now more prevalent than ever before, it’s clear that the time has come for businesses to step up and properly address the problem and create a truly equal workplace.

But the question remains: What exactly should be done to overcome the gender pay gap?

At Accenture, we are committed to achieving a 50/50 gender balanced workplace by 2025, and with this in mind, we conducted global research called Getting to Equal 2017: Closing the Gender Pay Gap.

The research found that, globally, a woman earns an average $100 for every $140 a man earns – a gap of about 30%. This compares to a pay gap of 9.4% in New Zealand, according to Statistics New Zealand.

There are a myriad of reasons as to the causes of gender wage inequality, such as engrained sexist attitudes within the workplace alongside the tendency of women spending a greater proportion of time in unpaid and low-paid work – just to name a few.

Given the range of causes, any solution will no doubt have the same level of complexity.

However, Accenture believe that the pay gap could be closed within two decades if women today take advantage of three powerful measures identified in the research, and if business, government and academia provides critical support.

Step 1: Becoming digitally fluent

According to the research, digital fluency is a key factor in women getting ahead.

Access to and understanding of digital tools is helpful to women as it enables them to do things like secure a good education, access online courses, network through social media and collaborate with classmates.

In developing markets, digital fluency powers mobile banking and money transfers, for example, both vital to help women participate more successfully in local markets.

Thus, the first step, in closing the pay gap is for women to become digitally fluent by embracing and using digital technologies to connect, work and learn.

Step 2: Crafting your individual career strategy

The Accenture research suggests that women would benefit in regard to the pay gap issue by individually crafting a comprehensive strategy, that encourages them to aim high, make informed choices, and manage their careers proactively.

As the concept implies, an individually crafted career strategy is just that – one that addresses the needs and particular situation and life choices of the individual.

So ultimately, there is no formula for what an individual’s career strategy should look like – it is entirely variable depending on one’s goals and aspirations.

However, the Accenture research suggests that when it comes to crafting your career strategy, it’s important to consider how your aspirations align with a particular company – taking into account its size (the average salary of women increases with company size at every career level), and whether it has family friendly practices, with flexible working hours and support to grow women’s careers.

While the decision of whether to work full-time is one that is completely up to the individual, the evidence suggests that working full-time increases women’s hourly pay by about 41% in developed and developing markets.

The research also identified several actions that affect work and pay once young women are in a job, including proactive career management, aspiration to be promoted to a leadership position, and having a mentor, along with having confidence and ambition.

These attributes are stronger in women who progress further and faster than other women – but they’re even stronger in men.

If men and women had these attributes equally, the research shows, the pay gap would be accelerated and significant.

Step 3: Technology immersion

Last, but by no means least is technology immersion.

The research measures this in terms of the combined impact of women becoming digitally fluent and gaining extra technology expertise from deeper digital instruction in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), coding or computing.

As it stands, 83% of tertiary male students have taken a computing or coding module, versus only 68% of women.

Tech immersion can especially benefit women who are studying; that is, well before they head out in to the workforce, as this helps to level the playing field with their male peers early on.

What has tended to happen is that while women recognise the value of digital and technology skills, they lag behind their male classmates, setting themselves up for slower advancement and a wider pay gap in their careers.

While 68% of entry level university students have taken a class in computing or coding, their male counterparts surpass them at 83%.

Though there is a clear lack of women in fields such as IT and software, not every young woman wants to graduate in to a STEM career.

But broader experience in science and math domains can open careers in fast-growing sectors with higher paid work such as civil engineering, urban design, medical research, and healthcare.

What’s clear from the research is that gaining advanced digital skills compounds over time and becomes highly valuable later in a woman’s career.

It is estimated that applying the above three ‘career accelerator’ steps, combined with support from business, government and academia, could reduce the pay gap by 35% by 2030, boosting women’s income globally by $3.9 trillion.

If governments and businesses could at the very least double the speed at which women become frequent users of technology, we could reach gender equality in the workplace 25 years sooner in developed nations and 40 years sooner in developing nations.

That’s a whole generation, or more, of young women who would no longer be shut out of an equal workplace.

Accenture believes an equal workplace is an economic and competitive imperative that matters to everyone, and we must take action now.

As our research shows, such a world is possible – so let’s get it started.

Article by Justin Gray, Accenture's country managing director for New Zealand.

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