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Why We Should Be Talking About The Gender Pay Gap

Jasmine Wiklander

Mon, 30 Aug, 2021

  • Reading Time:
    ~ 4 minutes

For businesses and humanity as a whole to grow, we need to close the gender pay gap now. Only by working together— in equal and fair conditions— will we build sustainable growth.

The gender pay gap and the fight to overcome it have a long and complicated history. Since the early 50s in Australia, protests and legislation for gender equality in the workplace have inched closer and closer to fairness.

But still, both Australia and the world have quite a way to go in our path to closing the gap. Today, the topic is more complex than ever: shifting legislation and work modalities intersect with social, cultural, and economic factors.

Something, however, is crystal clear. In a world where economic growth depends on gender parity, every business should be thinking about its performance in this arena.

Why should the gender pay gap be a key conversation topic in 2021?

Australia And The Gender Pay Gap.

The gender pay gap is expressed as the percentage of men’s earnings that women make.

On a global scale, the gender pay gap amounts to 32%— this means we’ve achieved only 68% of the road to complete parity. This is a step back from the pre-pandemic paradigm by 0.6 points. It’s a big setback: as things stand, we’ll get equality in no less than 135.6 years.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) last week put out a media release that stated in 2021 the gender pay gap in Australia stood at 14.2% on average, a rise of 0.8 percentage points over the last six months. Sadly, this means that, across all industries, men earn $261.50 a week more than their female counterparts. When it comes to full-time occupation, the inequality is at a staggering 20.1%— and we still can’t predict the long-term effects of the pandemic.

According to WGEA, in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry, the gender pay gap stands at 24.1%. In the Information Media and Telecommunications industry, it’s at 17.5%— significantly higher than average. Both industries also show lower stats of women in the workforce and (this is important) fewer women in positions of power.

The Gender Pay Gap Is A Complex Problem.

It’s not just about equal pay— though receiving the same pay for doing the same work is part of the issue—; it’s linked to a myriad of nuanced, intersecting factors. In Australia, the drivers for inequality include discrimination based on sex, industry segregation, and a conflictive work-life balance for women.

Direct discrimination is based on culturally conveyed prejudices.

In the 70s and 80s, orchestras introduced blind auditions. Faced with overwhelmingly male musicians, judges put a screen to obscure the gender of the performer but, in the beginning, the results didn’t change. Not until they realised that the mere sound of women’s high heels predisposed the judges to give them a lower score than males. When they laid carpets, the percentage of female musicians hired grew exponentially.

Gender-based biases in hiring and promotions are often unconscious and deeply ingrained. They also mean female professionals may find it harder to grow in their chosen industry (particularly relevant in tech, STEM, financial sectors, and others). Overall, this shows women often have more constrained choices than their male counterparts.

Wider cultural factors are at play too. A big one: conventional gender roles place women in the role of caregiver for children and family members.

Add to that possible time away due to pregnancy and motherhood (and the often prohibitive cost of childcare), and you get potential CV gaps as well as reluctant interviewers and managers.

A connected disparity factor: underemployment levels. Despite making up 47.2% of the Australian workforce, almost half have only part-time jobs.

In short, it gets complicated. Individual choice (like whether or not to be a parent) gets tangled up in wider issues (like problematic gender roles and recruiting or managerial bias)— and we end up with an unfair pay gap.

We Need More Women In Senior Positions.

Getting equal pay and closing the pay gap are different milestones. Equal pay means getting the same amount of money for the same employment and work done. This area shows some disparities.

But the gender pay gap is a more insidious issue. The intricate factors at play translate into fewer opportunities for women in getting hired and advancing their careers.

A big reason for the gap is the lack of women and non-binary people in positions of leadership. In Australia, only 18.3% of CEOs and 14.6% of chairs are women.

This lack of representation in positions with more authority and higher salaries keeps us from effectively closing the pay gap.

After realising that senior levels in their company lacked women, Deloitte decided to review processes, train against bias, and maximise women’s opportunities for advancement to senior roles in the company.

Taking extra steps like offering flexible work schedules and remote working, childcare services and parental leave, and further training programs go a long way to evening out the field.

Why Closing The Gender Pay Gap Benefits Your Company.

  • Many studies show women perform better than men academically, both in accomplishments and completion rates. Not making way for those skills means robbing your organisation of the valuable talent it needs to grow.
  • Hiring and promoting more women benefits the national and global economy.
  • A more diverse workforce makes your company more competitive. If you have a bias (whether conscious or unconscious) against advancing women to leadership positions, you are limiting your company’s success.
  • In 2021, your employer brand is a fundamental asset. Top talent wants to work with a successful, inclusive, and transparent organisation. Striving to close the gender pay gap is an important component.

What You Can Do.

While we acknowledge Equal Pay Day today, we must remind ourselves that it’s not only about highlighting the injustice and unfairness of it all, but more importantly, it’s about making a change.

“This Equal Pay Day, we’re calling on all Australians to ask #WhatsYourPayGap? in their workplaces and industries as a crucial step towards bridging this divide,” said WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge.

“Equal Pay Day is an ideal opportunity to remind employers around the country that one of the key levers of change is through gender pay audits. These audits help employers identify and address discriminatory pay, to ensure that women are equally compensated and valued.

“Research proves that regular audits close pay gaps faster.”

Do your part and ask your employers to commit to gender pay audits – this is the best way to celebrate Equal Pay Day. Do it for your daughter, your granddaughters, your nieces, your partner, your wife, that young woman on her way to university with big dreams.

Perhaps one day Equal Pay Day will be a celebration instead of a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

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