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The Human Resources Institute of New Zealand

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand (HRINZ) is the professional body for those involved in Human Resource Management and the development of people.

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Equal Employment Opportunities - Playing Fair To Build Your Employment Brand


Online tools to help employers assess whether their employment practices are fair and transparent are now available through the HRINZ website. Preliminary testing with selected HR professionals indicated that these new tools will make a real difference to employers.

The current skills-short labour market is creating pressing challenges for businesses when success depends on recruiting, retaining and engaging talented people. Fair and transparent employment practices can go a long way towards ensuring that employer branding matches the reality new employees meet in the workplace. They also help create an environment where people feel their input is properly recognised and rewarded, thus building engagement and commitment.

In recognition of the pressing daily demands faced by HR professionals, the National Advisory Council for the Employment of Women (NACEW) has developed a suite of tools to make it easier for businesses to assess whether their employment practices are fair for men and women.

HRINZ Chief Executive Beverley Main, who is also a member of NACEW, says that unfair pay and employment conditions may be expensive for employers, particularly in today’s tight labour market. “Unfair work practices can lead to high staff turnover, high absenteeism and low motivation,” she says. “In addition, when women’s pay is low, they are less likely to do paid work thus intensifying the skills shortage.

“NACEW wanted to draw on the work that has been done in the public sector and develop tools specifically for private sector employers.”

The tools were developed for NACEW by Margaret Hanson of Top Drawer Consultants, based on resources developed by the Pay and Employment Equity Unit in the Department of Labour. They are primarily designed to be used by larger employers but Hanson says they could also provide a useful starting point to smaller employers. Hanson has 20 years experience working with public and private sector employers and is acutely aware that daily business pressures often allow little time to address less pressing, but important long-term employment issues.

“I’ve based these resources on a chain of logic which will enable people to quickly assess their pay and employment practices and then drop down to a deeper level of evaluation if they want,” she says. “The tools enable people to identify whether men and women have different experiences at work and then analyse the nature of that difference and what is causing it.

“It may turn out that any differences are perfectly justifiable but, if not, the resources suggest a range of approaches to correcting the differences.”

The first level of analysis is an online ‘taster review’ to give HR professionals a feel for how a gender pay and employment equity review works. “The taster review follows the same logic as a full review and can be done either using real data from your workplace or best guesses,” says Hanson. “Even if users don’t have immediate access to accurate information, a taster review will help them explore possible causes, patterns and solutions in about 10 minutes.”

A full review requires more commitment but detailed guidelines are given in three booklets which can be downloaded from the HRINZ website. The first, a workbook, suggests people assess gender pay and employment equity against three indicators: rewards, participation, and respect and fairness. Each of the indicators is supported by four key questions which are illustrated by a range of possible prompt questions.

For example, within the rewards section, users are asked to consider whether women and men have equitable access to training and development opportunities that will enable them to advance their careers. Prompt questions include:

· What are the key training opportunities that enable people to advance in the main occupational groups?

· What are the key development opportunities (for example, acting-up positions, project leader roles, attendance at international conferences) in the main occupational groups?

· Are there differences between women and men as to who gets these key training and development opportunities?

· Are these differences disproportionate to the number of women and men in those occupations?

· Are there significant differences between the typical career paths of women and men into senior roles in the organisation?

“While every workplace is very different, the prompt questions are designed to get people to think about how to evaluate their organisation,” says Hanson. “Not all organisations will be able to answer the questions immediately but the workbook includes ideas on how to best answer the questions through the review process.

“Firstly, users will need to decide on the important gender issues for their organisation by doing a preliminary scan and identifying any significant pay or employment differences. Then they will need to collect a range of information in order to answer the suggested questions. The next step is to assess their findings and plan a response.”

All the review resources can be downloaded as Word files so that users can tailor them to suit the culture and needs of their organisation. The workbook contains a number of charts which provide a medium for collecting and compiling the information. For example, one chart is designed to gather a complete organisational pay profile, showing men’s and women’s pay at all levels, in male and female dominated occupations and in mixed gender occupations.

The second downloadable booklet contains tools and information to help with undertaking a pay and employment equity review. For example, it includes a list of possible traps and how to avoid them. One trap is “Only focusing on the negatives - acknowledge and celebrate the positive findings as well as investigating areas of concern.”

A number of HR professionals were asked to review the tools before they were finalised. Many responded positively to a section on patterns and possible causes, for example, why less women apply for some jobs than men.

“I particularly liked the review resources,” said Felicity Evans, Head of People Capital Institutional at ANZ National Bank, “as they will encourage users to think creatively about what might be causing any patterns which point towards unfair practices.

“I think that even very experienced HR professionals can feel overwhelmed by some of these bigger issues; and struggle to accurately diagnose the real issues. So a tool like this will help people with the analysis through a logical process.”

Peter Jennings, National HR Manager of Spotless Services, was also impressed with the resources, saying they were very practical in that they encouraged people to answer simple questions and then think through the reasons underpinning their answer. “Although the focus is on gender, I can see that these resources could be adapted for other issues, such as ethnicity, which could be very helpful.”

The third booklet includes advice and suggestions about using a project team to undertake a review. Hanson says that experience has shown that these reviews are best undertaken by a group of HR representatives, employees from different areas and different levels in the organisation, and unions or other employee representatives. “This approach makes it easier to gather the necessary information, to consider the findings from a range of perspectives and to get across-the-board commitment to any recommendations that result.”

The suggested review process using a project team involves seven team meetings of around two to three hours each. The project manager could be an outside consultant or an employee. “Between them, project team members should represent the main occupational groups within an organisation or the main groups thought to be affected by pay and employment equity issues,” says Hanson. “They would need to be able to consider the needs of the organisation as a whole, as well as specific parts of the organisation. “They would also need to be able to work collectively as a group, even though people may have very different views.”Hanson says that people often initially think of pay equity but these new resources cover all aspects of the employment process from recruitment through to pay, working conditions and opportunities for promotion, training and mentoring. “It is about being fair to men and women by assessing and rewarding their work in terms of skills, knowledge, responsibility, effort and working conditions,” she says. “It also includes equal pay for work of equal worth where jobs may be quite different but of the same value.”

Research shows that New Zealand women still earn less than men although the gap is slowly closing. In 2006, New Zealand women’s average hourly earnings were 88 percent of men’s earnings.

Hanson says this data points to unequal pay and employment options for men and women, indicating that workplaces are missing out on human potential. “Unequal pay points to women working in jobs below their skill level, often as a result of taking a break from paid work or wanting flexible or part-time hours.”  She expects leading employers to make use of the new resources to assess their systems and ensure they are on track. “A large number of New Zealand employers have fair employment systems. These new resources create an opportunity for them to undertake a robust assessment of their processes so they can be confident that men and women are treated fairly in their workplace.”

Go to the HRINZ website (www.hrinz.org.nz) and click on the HR Info drop-down menu to find out more about the new resources.  It is about being fair to men and women by assessing and rewarding their work in terms of skills, knowledge, responsibility, effort and working conditions.

This article was written for HRINZ publication by Jyoti Smith, Communications Consultant for NACEW.

 


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