Did you hear the one about the C.E.O. who told the radio show that women make less money because they menstruate? Yeah.
Head of the New Zealand Employers and Manufacturers' Association Alasdhair Thompson was discussing a proposed salary transparency bill that would allow employees to access information about rates of pay in their workplace, in order to check that they aren't being discriminated against on the basis of sex or race. (This is why it's important for women and men to talk about what they're getting paid.) Thompson seemed to deny that a wage gap existed, saying:
"Why do they take the most sick leave? Women do in general. Why? Because once a month they have sick problems, not all of them but some do. They have children that they have to take leave of therefore their productivity...(it's) not their fault. It may be that they have not got it sorted with their partners where the partners take more responsibility for what happens outside work."
Thompson said that because of ''a lot of these issues," statistics that show evidence of a wage gap aren't actually true. Women have periods, see. It's not like it's their fault, but it happens! QED. Never mind that the wage gap that people talk about is the one that persists after things like differences in education, qualifications, and experience have been taken into account. And that the number of sick days an employee takes has no bearing on their salary, or on any wage gap, anyway.
It's more than a little odd to hear this kind of 50s-style sexism voiced in New Zealand, a country where discrimination on the basis of sex is not exactly commonplace. There, where I grew up, women have held virtually every position of prominence in both the public and the business sectors. In 1893, we became the first nation to extend the franchise to women. We elected our first women mayors and Ministers of Parliament in the same year, and have since had women chancellors of our major universities, women Prime Ministers, and women business leaders. Our women writers have won the Booker Prize, and our women directors have won Palme d'Ors. For a period in the late 1990s, the Prime Minister (Helen Clark) was a woman, the Leader of the Opposition (Jenny Shipley) was a woman, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Dame Sian Elias) was a woman, the attorney general (Margaret Wilson) was a woman, the mayor of the largest city (Christine Fletcher) was a woman, and the C.E.O. of New Zealand's largest privately held company (Theresa Gattung) was a woman. I've learned to like living in the U.S. very much, but it has to be said: the day President Barbara Obama goes golfing with Speaker of the House Jane Boehner, names Erica Holder her attorney general, consults with Chief Justice Jenny Roberts, and verbally spars with Senate Minority Leader Michelle McConnell — bonus points for electing a mayor Maryanne Bloomberg — I'll eat my gender-neutral New Zealand-made hat.
Of course, solving sexism isn't just a matter of a handful of women making it to the top. New Zealand still has issues with domestic violence and there is a 12% wage gap. (No, Thompson, there really, really is.) But the U.N. still ranks New Zealand as the fifth most gender-equal society in the world, behind only Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. (For comparison: The U.K. was ranked 15th, Australia was 20th, and the U.S., where the wage gap is a whopping 23%, came in at 31st.) So to hear the head of the Employers and Manufacturers' Association — a fairly mainstream pro-business lobbying group — say that women are bad employees because they're, like, always getting their periods and stuff is just bizarre.
Thompson has already apologized, and been roundly criticized by leaders of both major political parties. (The current — and center-right — Minister for Employment and Social Development, who happens to be a woman, said Thompson "sounded a bit like a dinosaur.") He's probably typing his resignation letter already. This kind of bullshit really doesn't fly with the Kiwis.
Women's Sick Day Comment Outrage [Stuff.co.nz]