Factors in the success of the Action Plan so far

A Ministerial mandate set expectations at the highest level

Reducing the gender pay gap in the Public Service is a government priority. Having a Ministerial mandate has ensured that the Action Plan is a priority for agencies. The Taskforce reports on progress against the Action Plan to the Minister of State Services and the Minister for Women.

Joint agreement by Government, Public Service chief executives and unions supports lasting outcomes

Government, Public Service chief executives and the PSA signed up to the Action Plan as a joint initiative. Joint ownership provides a solid base of collective commitment to achieving the Plan’s aim and increases the likelihood of achieving sustainable outcomes. Heads of human resources and other practitioners implementing the Action Plan in their agencies can be confident they have their leaders’ and their unions’ support.

Collective commitment increases the likelihood of achieving sustainable outcomes

Collaboration between agencies, unions and the Taskforce

The PSA is a partner in the Action Plan and has worked with the Taskforce from the earliest stages of implementation, bringing its gender knowledge and a long history of commitment to gender equity. It collaborates with the Taskforce on creating guidance, delivering workshops, and monitoring progress. It has also maintained the spotlight on the Gender Pay Principles as a foundation of the Action Plan.

Agencies are expected to involve employees and unions from the earliest stages of developing their action plans, in accordance with the Gender Pay Principle of participation and engagement. Wide participation is building understanding and support for changes, enabling agencies to move quickly on delivering actions.

Specific milestones and timelines focus attention and enable accountability

Evidence shows that setting measurable targets is key to progress in reducing gender pay gaps.[4] The targets in the Action Plan are ambitious, and this has concentrated efforts. Successes achieved since the Action Plan was launched have given agencies confidence in their work and stimulated momentum, while accountability has maintained the focus.

Transparency through multiple forums supports accountability. Agency action plans are developed in consultation with employees and unions and will be published in mid-2020. Public Service workforce data by gender and by agency is published annually. Progress is reported to Ministers, and monitored by, joint Public Service and PSA forums, and Papa Pounamu, the Public Service chief executives’ diversity and inclusion leadership group.

Evidence shows that measurable targets are key to progress

A dedicated Taskforce leads and coordinates action

The Gender Pay Taskforce l Te Rōpū Mahi Rerekētanga Utu Ira Tangata me te Whakaōrite Utu was established in August 2018 to support agencies to implement the Action Plan, and to ensure that the Reconvened/Joint Pay Equity Principles are used to address pay equity claims in the State sector. The Taskforce provides system leadership, builds capability across the sector, supports individual agencies, and monitors progress.

The Ministry for Women and the State Services Commission, supported by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, have contributed staffing resources to the Taskforce reflecting the cross-agency commitment to gender equity. Four full-time equivalent Taskforce members are dedicated to achieving the Action Plan. The Taskforce is in the State Services Commission, which provides leadership and oversight of the State services, including overseeing workforce matters.

The Gender Pay Principles for the State sector

The Gender Pay Principles give a wider context to the Action Plan. The Principles support a shared understanding amongst State sector unions and employers of what leads to gender pay gaps and how to eliminate these gaps. The focus areas of the Action Plan correspond with many of the Principles, such as reducing the impact of gender bias and normalising flexible and part-time working arrangements. By developing guidance with the Gender Pay Principles Working Group we have been able to support embedding the Gender Pay Principles and achieving the Action Plan milestones.

Unions working on the ground to progress gender equity

Union members and delegates, supported by union organisers, have worked hard to ensure that the Action Plan milestones and an agency’s own gender pay gap drivers are captured in agency action plans. Agencies which have engaged well with unions and employees have seen the benefits: diverse perspectives have strengthened their initiatives by ensuring they are relevant and practical.

The Gender Pay Principles

Launched in June 2018, the Gender Pay Principles were developed collaboratively by the Gender Pay Principles Working Group, comprising unions, State sector agencies and the State Services Commission. The Principles’ overarching aim is to eliminate gender inequality and gender pay gaps in the State sector and they are a foundation of the Action Plan.

There are five main Principles

  • Freedom from bias and discrimination: Employment and pay practices are free from the effects of conscious and unconscious bias and assumptions based on gender.
  • Transparency and accessibility: Employment and pay practices, pay rates, and systems are transparent. Information is readily accessible and understandable.
  • Relationship between paid and unpaid work: Employment and pay practices recognise and account for different patterns of labour force participation by workers who are undertaking unpaid and/or caring work.
  • Sustainability: Interventions and solutions are collectively developed and agreed, sustainable and enduring.
  • Participation and engagement: Employees, their unions and agencies work collaboratively to achieve mutually agreed outcomes.

The working group that developed the Principles is collaborating with the Taskforce to develop guidance on eliminating gender bias from the employment life cycle, specifically from recruitment, remuneration, careers breaks and leave, and career progression.

Attacking the gender pay gap on multiple fronts through the four focus areas

An important aspect of the Action Plan is that agencies work on the four focus areas in combination reflecting the way that the drivers of gender pay gaps interconnect. Research has shown that actions on organisational gender pay gaps are most effective when they are comprehensive and co-ordinated. [5]As agencies implement actions for one milestone, the positive effects flow into other areas. For example, using robust equitable processes in setting starting salaries reduces the likelihood of gender pay gaps appearing among employees in the same or similar roles.

Building engagement with Māori and Pacific women to ensure the Action Plan achieves positive outcomes for all women

Engaging with Māori and Pacific women enables the Taskforce to develop guidance that helps to address gender and ethnic biases, although there is much more to do in this area. We have held parallel sessions with wāhine Māori and Pacific women to receive their input into the guidance and we plan to strengthen and expand this engagement. This will help us to better understand and target the drivers of gender pay gaps for all women.

Agencies work to their own action plans

Under the Action Plan, agencies create their own gender pay gap action plans each year with the flexibility to tailor their responses to their own gender pay gap drivers. They start by understanding their own pay and representation data and employees’ experiences. This evidence-based approach to tackling organisational gender pay gaps is reinforced in the Gender Pay Principles.

Aiming for progress rather than perfection

It has taken courage to adopt an ongoing learning approach – acknowledging that there are no perfect solutions, but we need to start, draw on the best evidence we have, learn as we go, and be prepared to change tack if things are not working.

Description of Figure 2

Figure 2 shows five connected arrows creating a loop to symbolise a continuous learning process. Short paragraphs of text describe the five stages in the process. The five stages are:

  1. Identify the drivers of your gender pay gap (in bold) by analysing gender pay and representation data and engaging with employees and unions
  2. Develop your vision, goals and action plan (in bold) with employees and unions based on your analysis
  3. Implement your actions (in bold) ensuring they are specific, time-bound and progress can be monitored
  4. Monitor the impact (in bold) of your actions by reviewing your data and engaging with employees and unions
  5. Revise your plan and goals (in bold) based on the results of your monitoring

 An ongoing learning approach

Figure 2: An ongoing learning approach

Ongoing learning is embedded in the annual review and development of agency action plans. The Taskforce has also been able to draw on knowledge within agencies, some of which have been working to reduce their gender pay gaps for several years. The Taskforce has shared knowledge though agency case studies in workshops and in our guidance. Our medium-term aim is for agencies to increasingly learn from each other about effective practices and solving problems.

The Action Plan aims to contribute to fairness more broadly

Gender is central to the Action Plan, but we have also looked for opportunities to increase equity for all employees. For instance, our guidance to agencies on meeting the Action Plan’s equal pay milestone deliberately reinforces the need for the salaries of all employees to be reviewed and corrected irrespective of gender. As a result, pay inequities that are not based on gender have been uncovered by agencies, such as different starting salaries for internal and external candidates. We also know from agencies that have completed equal pay processes that both women and men have received pay corrections as a result.

Gender is central … but we have looked for opportunities to increase equity for all employees

Employment relations in the State sector

In 2018–19 agencies ensured that all Public Service employees were receiving the 2018 Living Wage. Agencies have also worked to reduce the gap between their highest and lowest earners, and some agencies have responded by lifting the salaries of their lowest-paid employees. Women are overrepresented in lower-paid occupational groups, so increasing the pay of the lowest paid has affected more women than men. It has made a substantial difference for Māori and Pacific women in particular, who are more likely to be amongst the lowest-paid employees.

"The Action Plan has given those of us who work in the departments the power to speak more openly about flexible working and equal pay, and it's leading to real change."

"Joanne Hacking, Chief Investigator, Immigration New Zealand and Government Women’s Network l Te Aka Wāhine o Aotearoa"


[4] The Workplace Gender Equality Agency releases annual reports on progress in reducing the gender pay gap in Australia’s private sector. In 2018, it reported that gender pay gap actions work better in combination than in isolation, and that measurement, action and accountability combined lead to the strongest outcomes. Gender Equity Insights 2018, Inside Australia’s Gender Pay Gap https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/97249_Gender-Equity-Insights-2018.pdf

[5] Ibid., Gender Equity Insights 2018, Inside Australia’s Gender Pay Gap https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/97249_Gender-Equity-Insights-2018.pdf

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