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Tackling the ‘wicked’ problem of state sector gender inequity


Members of the research team at the Auckland campus - Patricia Loga, Professor Jane Parker and Dr Amanda Young-Hauser


Gender inequities in the New Zealand public service, particularly around pay and promotion and Māori and Pacific women’s over-representation in lower-paid jobs, is to be the subject of a research project led by Professor Jane Parker from the School of Management.

It is one of three team research projects to receive Massey University strategic investment funding this year.

Professor Parker says gender inequality in the public service is a multi-faceted problem, significant for socio-economic and cultural reasons. “Enduring gender inequities reflect an overall under-valuation of public service workers’ capabilities, translating into their reduced motivation, engagement, productivity and retention.

“Public service diversity policies have sought to embrace the representation of different societal groups and the provision of services that truly reflect and satisfy citizens and government’s needs. However, despite their political prioritisation and some recent improvement, New Zealand’s public service is still dogged by inequities, including gender pay and leadership gaps.”

A focus on Māori and Pacific women

Over a year, the researchers will examine middle-managers’ role in addressing the societal challenge of gender equity in the public service. Fifty managers and staff in three public service agencies, along with and 10 government, employer and union people with expertise on the issue, will be interviewed.

The project will bridge an earlier study of public service gender inequities – that did not examine the situation of Māori and Pacific women workers – and a planned four-country comparative study that will look at the international aspects of the societal challenge and bids to eliminate it.

The researchers’ proposal for funding ($132,000 was approved) describes gender inequity as “a wicked problem and a national and international priority made all the more vital by the public service’s mandate to be a ‘good employer’”.

The research team

Professor Parker’s specialties include employment relations and human resource management, focussing on women, equity and work in New Zealand, Britain and the Pacific.

Other researchers in the team are:

  • Dr Amanda Young-Hauser from the School of Psychology, a community and social psychologist with experience in qualitative research with marginalised communities;
  • Associate Professor Janet Sayers, also School of Management, specialises in workplace diversity and service and process management and often works on inter-disciplinary research projects;
  • PhD candidate Patricia Loga, School of Management, whose doctoral study examines the relationship between public service motivation and leadership in a post-conflict state (Fiji); and
  • Selu Paea, a Pasifika Directorate learning adviser and consultant.

In their proposal for funding, the researchers said the project would yield significant benefit for New Zealand by helping to develop and apply policy and tools (including a gender equity index and online network) aimed at addressing the inequities. It would also enable emerging researchers to become part of the project to develop their skills and would contribute Massey’s capability and capacity for recognising Māori aspirations, needs and contribution.

The project’s core concern with Māori and Pacific women workers’ over-representation in the most equity-challenged areas of the public service would also have a wider benefit. “By highlighting their realities, this context- and culturally sensitive research will also prioritise attention for those within their orbit at work and beyond (eg Māori and Pacific men workers and families), with a view to developing multi-voiced, solutions-oriented research.”

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