The principle of equal pay is a simple one. That regardless of gender, the same work is deserving of the same financial reward. If Anna and Adam sit next to one another in an office, doing the same job and employed for the same hours, Adam shouldn’t take home a fatter pay packet simply because he’s male.
Simplicity can be deceiving, however. The national conversation on pay equality remains fraught and controversial. It was way back in 1969 that Australia first recognised women’s right to equal pay, but as former Justice Mary Gaudron said decades later: “We got equal pay. Then we got it again. Then we got it again and we still don’t have it”. Her lesson remains acutely relevant.
A study by the Diversity Council of Australia and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows the pay gap in 2019 is equivalent to $23 billion a year. Of course, big numbers can make the brain spin and the eyes goggle but mean little to us in reality. For context, $23 billion is more than what the Australian Government spends annually on recurrent funding for every school student in the entire country.
Each year we see only minor improvements – and occasionally even set-backs – in the gap between men and women’s earnings. This year, the national gender pay gap is 14.0 per cent. It has declined from 14.1 per cent in the past six months. So the gap has narrowed, a tad, but genuinely shifting the dial remains far from the top of any government’s agenda. Angry men on the internet shout in all-caps that women won’t be happy until they’ve taken over, reducing the previously expansive kingdoms of men to mere square centimetres… And Australian women quietly go about their days.
Women are still doing double shifts of paid and unpaid work. The way a woman devotes her time changes radically when she becomes a mother. Her childcare hours skyrocket, her time spent cleaning and cooking more than doubles, and the work she does that receives remuneration plummets. Her earnings will never recover.
Why Equal Pay Day Today?
In 2019, the national gender pay gap has remained steady from 2018 and remains at its lowest level in 20 years at 14 per cent. Equal Pay Day is today, on the August 28, as it marks the additional 59 days from the end of the previous financial year that women must work to earn the same pay as men.
By contrast, the average man picks up a handful of hours ‘babysitting’ his own kids on the weekend. His domestic cleaning load doesn’t budge and nor do his hours in the paid workforce. His life changes, yes. The arrival of children is a world-shifting joy for most new parents. But for a bloke? His ability to earn a living and provide for himself remains fairly steady. For a woman, it’s shattered.
Women’s salaries peak at just age 31, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For men that same peak comes about close to a decade later. That’s a decade’s worth of more experience, further training or education, and strategic decision making. A decade of more time to climb the greasy pole of promotion and pay rises. The result is that women retire with just over half the superannuation savings of men.
And still, the greatest contributor to our gender pay gap is not children.
Believe it or not, discrimination plays a bigger role in our persistent underpayment of women. Australian women are assumed to not be ‘interested’ in promotion when they have other priorities at home. Men go out for drinks with the boys, share a beer, tell some jokes and win the approval of their largely male seniors. Blokes at the top promote young guns they consider to be made in their own image. Women are still assumed to be hard-working, team-players but not ‘leadership’ material.
In a modern, developed nation like Australia we can and should be doing better. The challenge is for governments and the community to make it a priority. Discrimination against women, in all its manifestations, must be taken and punished more seriously. Governments should properly fund child care and legislate for a paid parental leave system that incentivises both parents spending some time at home.
Men have to see themselves as part of the problem and therefore essential to the solution. Being a good and vocal ally to women colleagues, being open about what they’re paid and fighting alongside women for fairness. Women must be willing to demand their due and vote with their feet and head for the nearest door when it doesn’t come. And socially we need to embrace and celebrate unpaid caring and domestic work as a worthy contribution. Only by raising its status will men be more willing to undertake it.
Illustration: Patti Andrews
Jamila Rizvi’s Guide To Arguing The Pay Gap to A Non-Believer
In her series, Making The Case, Future Women’s arguer-in-chief Jamila Rizvi arms you with the right ammunition to argue the pay gap to a non-believer. You can read her guide in full here but here are the key takeaways to help you with any tricky conversation this week, and beyond.
The basics: The gender pay gap is the difference between women and men’s average full-time weekly salaries, expressed as a percentage of men’s salaries. The gender pay gap has remained relatively stable in Australia for close to two decades, with 2018 being the first year it dropped below 15 per cent. Crucially, the gender pay gap does not include non-salaried extras that employees might receive such as performance pay, superannuation and non-monetary incentives. If it did, the gap would be considerably larger.
The numbers: The current gender pay gap in Australia (as of August 2019) is 14.0 per cent, which equates to a women earning, on average, $241.50 less than men each week. The pay gap differs between industries and between locations. For example, the pay gap is lowest in South Australia (9.2 per cent) and highest in Western Australia (21.8 per cent). The financial services industry has the highest industry pay gap (24.4 per cent) and retail trade has the lowest (3.9 per cent).
The legalities: Australia passed the Equal Pay Act in 1969 which required employers to pay women and men the same salary for doing the same job. Before then it wasn’t uncommon for jobs to be advertised with two separate wages for women and men. Today, the Fair Work Act prevents employers from paying women and men differently for work of equal value. Claims for equal remuneration can be made to the Fair Work Commission if this is not complied with.
The top and the bottom: The most senior jobs in our economy – and the ones that attract the highest salaries – are still generally held by men. Of Australia’s top 200 companies, there are more CEOs named Andrew than there are women CEOs. On the flip side, the lowest paid jobs in our economy, including unskilled and casual roles, remain dominated by women. Combine these top and bottom factors and we start to see the beginnings of the pay gap.
Occupational segregation: Most Australians work in gender unequal occupations. That is, most of us work in industries that are either dominated by men or dominated by women. Professions that are dominated by women, like nursing, child care, cleaning or teaching tend to be lower paid. And professions that are dominated by men, such as banking, mining, or engineering tend to attract higher salaries. A key contributor to this problem is work that has traditionally been considered the responsibility of women, is work that was historically unpaid and therefore remains undervalued.
Sex discrimination: The Workplace Gender Equality Agency says that the single biggest contributor to the gender pay gap is sex discrimination. Employers still exercise bias when making decisions about hiring, promotion and pay. Part of this is strong unconscious gender bias, that dictates how we expect women and men employees to behave and also what their ambitions, abilities and effectiveness are. It’s important to note that sex discrimination impacts women from their first day in paid work, often well before they are likely to be having or even thinking about having children.
Part time and time out: Finally, women are much more likely to be working part-time than men. Women make up a whopping 76 per cent of the part-time workforce and are also more likely to spend significant periods out of the paid workforce entirely. Women are also doing the bulk on unpaid work in Australia, we spend more time engaged in domestic duties and looking after children. This simply leaves less time to be doing pay work and consequently, this generally means fewer opportunities for career progression.
The bottom line: The gender pay gap is about so much more than being paid like for like. It’s the combination of these many and varied factors that mean women earn substantially less over the course of a lifetime than men. The consequences of this are shocking. Women retire with around half the superannuation of men and two thirds of single retired Australian women over 65 currently live below the poverty line. Yes, things are changing but they are changing ever so slowly – and it is Australian women who are paying the price.
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