Despite suffrage, women get only the second vote

Priyanca Radhakrishnan – 

One reason I decided to move to New Zealand was the success of the suffrage movement. In 1893, New Zealand became the first nation where women won the right to vote. It is an incredible achievement.

However, we must be careful that we do not become complacent as a result and assume that we now have a meritocratic society where women have the same opportunities as men.

Women earn less than men, are overrepresented as victims of family violence and underrepresented at senior leadership levels. Outcomes are also very different for different groups of women.

Migrants discriminated

Research shows that highly skilled immigrants – both men and women – struggle to find jobs because of discrimination from recruitment agents and potential employers. Immigrants’ views are that barriers to employment include skin colour, accents, overseas qualifications, prejudice, a lack of cultural understanding, language skills and a conservative attitude of New Zealanders employers.

This is corroborated by evidence showing that European migrants find entering the job market less difficult. Indian women are often doubly disadvantaged because of both gender and ethnicity.

The pay gap between men and women is the worst it has been in a decade.

It varies between industries, but across all sectors women earn 14.3% less than men and last year it got worse. The difference is the largest in the finance industry, where women earn 30.2% less than men.

Māori, Pasifika and Asian women are the lowest-paid workers in New Zealand and most likely to be in casual, part-time and insecure work.

Family Violence worsens

New Zealand has one of the worst rates of family violence in the developed world. In 2015, New Zealand Police investigated over 100, 000 family violence incidents. One in three New Zealand women report that they have experienced sexual or physical abuse in their lifetime. Child sexual abuse is also a significant issue.

What’s worse is that 80% of family violence is not reported to authorities.

There is no reliable data about the scale or severity of family violence in ethnic communities. However, I have worked in this sector for many years and can confirm that it is a problem. Family violence is an issue that cuts across every single ethnic, age, socio-economic group.

We need to discuss this without tarring the entire community with the same brush, but we must talk about it. Family violence thrives in a culture of silence.

Taking women on board

We also need to talk about leadership – what do we consider effective leadership and desirable leadership qualities? Research shows that men are considered good leaders when they are assertive and decisive. Women displaying the same traits are either considered arrogant and pushy or effective but unlikeable.

While women represent nearly half the workforce in this country, in 2015 they held only 19% of senior management positions.

In 2014, New Zealand was ranked 15th out of 45 countries for the number of women in senior management roles. By 2015, that dropped to 28th out of 35. In 2004, New Zealand was third in the world.

We make decisions every day without really examining biases that inadvertently affect them. Sometimes, we discriminate against people without even realising it.

The phrase ‘Old Boys Club’ has some truth to it. There is significant evidence to show that we subconsciously hire or appoint people who look and sound like us.

The Ministry of Women has built an evidence base about specific strategies that can be taken to counter unconscious biases.

We are a nation with a proud history of women’s rights.

It is important that we hold on to the achievements of those who have gone before us. It is equally important, though, that we continue the fight to pave the way for the generations to come.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a voracious reader, champions social and community causes and is a strong advocate of ethnic and gender diversity in corporate governance and in public life. She is a Member of the Labour Party Policy Council and was recently elected Chair of Multicultural Labour (formerly known as Ethnic Sector of Labour Party). She lives in Auckland.

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