Pay the sisters the same as the misters

This piece is an adaptation of a short talk I gave as part of an Art+Feminism event, held at Mairangi Arts Centre in April.


Pay the sisters the same as the misters. It’s a simple concept – that women should be paid equally to men. It’s the law, and has been since the Equal Pay Act came into existence in 1972. But here we are, 45 years later, and women are still earning less than men.

I found it difficult to find any recent research on gender pay imbalance which directly relates to the arts and culture sector. Museums Aotearoa conducts general remuneration research for the museum and gallery sector, and a Ministry for Culture and Heritage report from 2012 looks at the economic impact of the arts sector in NZ, and outlines some salary and employment related statistics. The report indicates that in 2012 the average salary in the arts sector stood at $36,300 which was less than the average salary overall in NZ, which at the time stood at $49,800[1]. Using this data as an indication, as a sector we’re earning less than the NZ average, regardless of gender. The sector also has a high proportion of people working part-time, and around 50% of people working in the creative and performing arts sector indicated that their work in the arts is not their primary income. While I don’t have the concrete evidence to back this up, I would say that given there haven’t been any dramatic funding increases in the sector, it’s likely that the disparity between arts sector salary and general salary remains the same today.  It seems clear that we don’t go into the arts and culture sector for the money.

Comparing salaries within the arts and culture sector can be also be difficult. This sector is relatively small in New Zealand, so it can be difficult to find a position which is “the same” as what you are doing. Our institutions differ in size and structure, and jobs differ accordingly. This is where Pay Equity comes in. Pay equity is where women and men are paid equally for jobs which have the same level of skill, education, experience and other factors, even if the jobs are not technically ‘the same’. For example, if a man and a woman are both working front of house in the same gallery, then they will be paid the same wage. This is equal pay. However, if one woman is doing one job at an institution, and a man is doing the equivalent job at another institution, with comparable responsibilities and education required to perform the duties of the position, they should be paid the same. This is pay equity.

In 2017, the Ministry for Women released a report on the gender pay imbalance in New Zealand. They cite that 80% of the gender pay gap is driven by unexplained factors including unconscious bias towards women.[2] There is also evidence indicating that the proportion of the pay gap that is “unexplained” becomes greater the more a woman is paid.[3] Unconscious bias toward women affects the ways we are treated in the workplace as well as how much we are paid.

So, the cold hard facts:

  • New Zealand women, on average, are paid an average of 13% less than man.
  • Māori women earn 13% less than Pākehā women, and 23% less than a man of any ethnicity.
  • Asian women get paid 10% less than Pākehā women, and 20% less than men of any ethnicity.
  • Pasifika women are the worst off, earning 20% less than Pākehā women, and 28% less than a man of any ethnicity. [4]

In 2016 women's average weekly earnings were 61.1% of men’s. In dollar terms, that means women are earning an average of $432 a week compared tomen earning and average of $707: a difference of $275 per week and $14,300 per year.[5] To put this into perspective, I did some googling to see what I might be able to buy with that cash. For $275 I could get my hair fully cut and coloured at my hairdresser in Ponsonby. The average Kiwi family of four spends about that on their weekly shop. I could rent a one bedroom unit in Te Atatu for $260 per week. For the full $14,300 per year I could buy a 2012 Toyota Rav4 on TradeMe. In real terms, there’s a lot we could all be doing with that extra cash. This might seem like an oversimplification, but the gender pay gap is a reality and women are financially disadvantaged by it in very real terms. In terms of hours worked, we could say women should work 13% less days in a year, effectively going on leave from the 14th of November onwards.

The numbers make it glaringly obvious – women are paid less than men. It’s unacceptable, and it’s time to get pissed off and do something about it. But what can we do?  Given that I am not in a position to hire people or set their salaries, I have considered some ways that I can effect change despite my lack of institutional power. Firstly, I think we need more transparency and more conversation about pay scales and salaries within our sector. If I don’t know what my male counterparts are getting paid, how do I know if I am getting a fair deal? I would also ask that Museums Aotearoa make their general information on remuneration public, so that women can make a call on what the sector standard for their salary is. Knowing the base line ofsalaries allows women to establish whether they are being offered a low or high starting point, and it gives a solid grounding for negotiating a better deal.

Negotiating pay is also something we can work on individually. I believe some mentoring in this area would be hugely useful.. Negotiating in our sector comes with baggage. There is already limited money to go around, so asking for more can feel selfish when that money could be spent elsewhere. I believe this attitude is holding us back. Negotiating for a higher salary isn’t about being greedy, it’s about being paid appropriately for the work that we do. In terms of women negotiating for higher pay, a recent study from the United States indicates that women are as likely as men to negotiate for a higher salary, but that men are more 25% more likely to be successful in those negotiations.[6] I wonder if we had more women in positions of leadership and governance, and particularly more women of colour, would we see higher salaries and more successful negotiations for women?

Lastly, knowledge is power. We need to arm ourselves with resources, so we know what we’re talking about. I’ve made a list of resources at the end of this piece. They’re easy to understand, and explain not only the statistics, but why the pay imbalance is happening. By empowering ourselves with knowledge we can start asking questions about our pay, and advocate for ourselves and other women in the sector.

When I attended the Treat Her Right campaign video filming, there were women taking part who had been activists since 1972, the year the Equal Pay Bill came into action in New Zealand. That’s 45 years. If we continue at the same rate of change we have been tracking at, women won’t reach pay equity for another 45 years. Consider this a call to arms! I don’t want to wait until I’m 75 to be paid fairly. It’s time for a change. It’s time to pay the sisters the same as the misters.

Naiomi Murgatroyd

Useful resources:





[5] (accessed 14/3/17)