The New Zealand labour market is still highly segregated. Men and women are possibly doing about the same amount of work but most of men's work is paid, whereas women do a lot of unpaid work. Māori and Pacific women, in particular, are not seeing the gains other people are making. For those reasons, women have a different labour market experience that requires a response to life changes such as having children and caring for wider family/whānau.
Women as a workforce are currently under-employed, unemployed or under-utilised at a higher rate than men. One in three employed women work part-time, and of those part-time working women, one in five is under-employed. Barriers to fully ulitising women’s skills include the need for flexible work, part-time work, and managing childcare demands.
Women make up the majority of those in caring roles
McKinsey Global Institute (2015) found 75 percent of unpaid care is undertaken by women; the OECD (2014) noted that women typically spend between two to ten times more time on care work, than men. The last Time Use survey undertaken in New Zealand in 2009/10 found women spent approximately four hours 20 minutes on unpaid work, while men undertook two hours and 32 minutes. Information was not collected on whether this is by choice. The expectation is still that women will undertake essential unpaid work, particularly the primary caregivers for children, ageing relatives, and those with disabilities.
Unpaid work perpetuates gender inequality
Although unpaid work makes an important contribution to the economy and plays a pivotal role in society and to individuals and communities, it is not visible, widely understood, recognised, or acknowledged, as ‘real’ work. Where women shoulder most of the responsibility for unpaid care work, they are less likely to be engaged in paid employment, and those who are active in the labour market are more likely to be limited to part-time or informal employment, and earn less than their male peers. Societal expectation is still that women will undertake essential unpaid work, particularly the primary caregivers for children, ageing relatives, and those with disabilities.
The historic undervaluation of paid work that has mostly been done by women, especially domestic, and care and support work, is intrinsically linked to the marginalisation and undervaluation of women’s unpaid work. This issue is recognised in the Gender Pay Principles (Principle 3), including the combination of unpaid care work and the undervaluation of women’s paid work caused by pay equity issues, which impacts on the gender pay gap.
The Ministry for Women’s research shows that, while mothers in paid work suffer a ‘motherhood gap’ which increases the longer they stay out of the workforce, mothers who were in low-paid, or no-paid, work before becoming parents face an ‘employment gap’(Sin et al., 2018).
As a result, women are disadvantaged in areas such as pay, progression, and security of employment. Women often experience decreased earnings when they return to the paid workforce from career breaks, they often experience difficulty getting their careers back on track, or getting into sustainable employment. All of this has a significant impact on women’s lifetime earnings, financial security, and their capacity for retirement savings, which are substantially reduced in comparison to men.