I’d like to say there is good news and bad news when it comes to Australia’s gender pay gap. In reality however, there is passable news and there is bad news. While women are fast approaching equal numbers in the paid work force, we remain far from equal players.
The newest scorecard from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, released this morning, paints a pretty dim picture of sexism in Aussie workplaces. There are small positive changes here and there – some companies standing up and trying to do the right thing – but there are no monumental industry-wide shifts. Australia remains on a slow, eye-rolling-worthy level trek towards closing the gender pay gap.
I was in year six when Justice Mary Gaudron of the High Court said of equal pay “We got equal pay. Then we got it again. Then we got it again and we still don’t have it”. What Gaudron meant is that while paying a man and a woman differently for doing the same job is against the law, there are more insidious, harder-to-shift elements of the system, which mean women still make far less over a lifetime. At this rate, my great-grandchildren will be in year six before we reach genuine pay parity.
Starting to interrogate and report on the data remains an important step. We’re never going to make improvements on the gendered nature of pay unless we count this stuff. We need to open the lid on the dirty sexist secrets of work, and get the sunshine beaming in there, before we can clean out the bugs with a truckload of kitchen spray.
Here’s what we know from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency about pay in Australia:
- The gender pay gap has fallen to 20.8 percent, down 0.5 percentage points from last year. Now, I’ll take any narrowing of the gap as a win, but this is a measly improvement that leaves men, on average, earning $25,679 a year more than women.
- Almost fifty percent of employers now offer paid parental leave, and around 44 percent offer secondary carer’s leave. These figures are, however, growing at glacial pace.
- Men keep getting left behind with family policies focusing on women, not just men. Only 2.3 percent of companies set targets for men’s engagement with flexible work. We’ll never see real change for women at work, until men are supported to step up at home.
- 74 percent of major employers have a gender equality strategy but a lot of it is froth and bubble, with only a third setting actual KPIs for their managers. Women don’t want a cupcake on International Women’s Day, we want to be paid fairly.
- Gender balance stalls at the top. A mere 17 percent of CEOs are women and board representation sits at around 27 percent.
The data provides a cutting reality for those of us kidding ourselves that equality already exists. 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… While Australian women quietly go about their days, earning themselves towards an underfunded retirement.
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. The fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia are single women over 65 years of age. It’s a future that I am not willing to put up with.
So, what can you do about it? Lots. You can ask your male colleagues to disclose what they’re paid. The truth will shock you. You can work with teammates or with a union or representative body to ask for flexible work policies and paid parental leave that benefits women and men. You can ask your employer, not just what they do now, but what their aims are for the future. And if you’re a senior employee or business owner, then you can make targets to do better on these matters both public and ambitious.
I’m not willing to wait for my great grandchildren’s shot at pay equality. As the glorious lyricists of Queen once said, I want it all and I want it now. Who’s with me?
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