Breaking stereotypes — are we there yet?

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Pay gap differences between males and females has become a topic of conversation again recently, with Australian Taxation Office figures showing males out-earned their female counterparts in top jobs by $65,000.

Recent figures from America show because women tend to work fewer years than men over their careers, they are more likely to end up in poverty during retirement.

The latest New Zealand figures show the gender pay gap at 11.8%, an increase since 2014 where it sat at 9.9%. By contrast, America sits at approximately 20%, showing that New Zealand is “doing well”.

However, that does not mean there are not challenges for women in the work force, and companies vary in how they have adapted to the modern working mum and family-orientated dad.

Maree Stevenson has been involved in human resources for more than 10 years, and has seen the differences in the way companies treat staff equality.

She says company policies have a huge impact on the employment of women, and that her current company is unusual as construction-focused companies do not tend to have a large number of women in management.

“Women in management and in non-traditional industries tend to be quite outstanding in their field,” Ms Stevenson says.

She says women are sought after for positions outside of management in industries that are not female dominated, but tend to “drop out” of the industry due to family reasons as companies often don’t have a structure in place to facilitate their return or to accommodate changed circumstances.

“This reduces the likelihood of these women moving into management positions. Without strong leadership and support at these initial stages it is difficult and slow to change existing patterns.

“Recognition of the benefits of diversity is becoming more widespread, evidenced in part by legislative developments. Common practice will improve this, I hope.”

Now Ms Stevenson works for Prendos New Zealand Ltd, and has overseen the change in mindset for the company.

It employs more than 10 women in upper management positions with pay determined by experience and qualification — an unusual feat considering Prendos is a construction consultancy company in an industry usually dominated by males.

“We have no diversity policies currently as I prefer to consider the person rather than the gender or race or sexual orientation,” she says. “This means women get good opportunities here.”

In the construction industry, the roles of structural engineers, building surveyors, project managers, architects and quantity surveying tend to fall to men, with women being mostly a minority during their study.

Prendos director and architecture team leader Natasha Cockerell says there is often a big difference between companies, with some still very male-orientated.

“We have more females than males in the design department — I think at university it was about 50/50. It’s not normal for there to be more females than males.”

Prendos Wellington regional manager and building surveyor Hayley Parks says she is one of few women in her field.

“I’ve noticed since I became a member of the New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors (NZIBS) there has been a slight increase in females — I think there was only one other female member when I started!” Ms Parks says.

 

Perceived obstacle?

“I initially felt quite proud to have progressed in my career in what is traditionally a very male-dominated industry but, over time, I have hardly ever felt any resistance or discrimination in my role working in the construction field. So perhaps this was only a perceived obstacle.

“I certainly encourage any other females considering building surveying as a career to pursue this.”

Currently there are three registered female members and seven transitional female members out of a total of 194 members in the NZIBS.

Noeline Clarke says often men join the NZIBS having come from jobs in a construction background that women didn’t often take on.

She says the shift to more women joining could be to do with pathways opening up overseas which allow qualifications to be gained in building surveying, decreasing the likelihood of a career path in construction.

“I think if a person is qualified it doesn’t really matter. We have one woman who has been part of the industry for a number of years, but suddenly there are now more,” Ms Clarke says.

“I think we have some coming from the UK and Ireland — I think building surveying has a stronger career path over there.”

Ms Cockerell believes the reason there are fewer women in high management roles is due to the time taken off.

“I think as you move on in your career most women take time off to have children and possibly get pigeon-holed into a lower position when they come back. They’ve gotten left behind.

“When I was at another company, I was told when I was going on maternity leave for the second time that I wouldn’t be able to handle coming back full-time with two kids.

 

Daunting task

“I asked him how many kids he had. And he had three kids. He didn’t think it was an issue him working full-time with three kids. But for some reason I wouldn’t handle it.”

Marketing and communications manager Jodie Cameron says it was a daunting task to come back to work after seven years off focusing on being a mum.

“I thought it was going to be a really big deal at the time and I wouldn’t even get to the point of being interviewed.

“I think that lack of confidence in what you can do and your value to a firm can be the reason women take lesser positions or lesser pay when they come back to work.”

IT facilities manager Marianne Maloney says she was the only woman in her study course 17 years ago. “You do get patted on the head to a degree, especially in the IT field.”

She says she was often treated as a secretary and was simply handed that as her secondary role. Having been with Prendos for 10 years, she has seen significant changes in the company.

“When I first joined the company 10 years ago, Prendos had a staff count of around 35 to 40,” Ms Maloney says.

“In those days, Prendos was what you would class your typical sort of Kiwi company where the women did the typing, and the management roles were mainly covered by the men in the office.

“Back then, it was almost unheard of for women to have a family and return to the workforce. Ladies would leave and not return. Being one of the first women to actually return and want to continue work, it came as a surprise to some.

 

Company growth prompts change

“With growth came the need for change, and the need to branch out further for experience. Many women have since had families and returned to Prendos, and it has been seen as a positive.”

When she began at Prendos it largely consisted of two departments — building consultancy, and valuations. With growth it meant the need for human resources, an internal IT team and a marketing team.

“I’ve seen the company grow to 150 staff members, many from all around the globe, and bringing with them knowledge and experience.

“Change is a constant part of a growing business, and it is how the company chooses to deal with that change that makes it a success or a failure,” Ms Maloney says.

Director and structural engineering manager Cathy Thomas has been in the industry for the past 30 years, and says to begin with, she was treated as a bit of a novelty.

Throughout her career she has learned how to manage and make sure she is not treated any differently because of her gender. She has learned not only to juggle her career with her life, but what to take on and pass on to others.

“The advice I got from the last women in leadership summit I went to was don’t try and do it all yourself,” Ms Thomas says.

“Get a cleaner. Don’t think you should be doing it all yourself because you won’t do a good job of it. It is easier said than done.

Ms Stevenson says she believes having children makes you learn to deal with things a bit better in the workforce.

“When you come back to work you are a bit more understanding. It is not a disadvantage.”

She believes the workplace should be about equality, not one gender versus the other.

“Encouraging and supporting women in the workplace — that actually just applies to people, male or female. If the dad wants to go to the leaving parties or have a sick day, it’s about equality. It’s not just for women.”

CAD manager Janet Wilson says it is important children are brought up to understand equality between genders.

“It is really important we bring up our kids, especially boys, to see that their parents both take an even role in those domestic chores. It’s the next generation.”