Today Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) releases its 2017-18 scorecard. The dataset includes results from around 4500 non-government employers of more than 100 people. And while the general trajectory of data is positive, the overall picture is pretty disappointing for working women. When the World Economic Forum famously predicted that true gender equality was still a century away, they weren’t kidding around.
In the good news, there’s a greater number of Australian employers implementing policies for gender equality, including flexible work arrangements. We also witnessed the largest single-year drop in our country’s gender pay gap for more than five years. It’s fallen a little over one percent, to 21.3 percent (when accounting for total remuneration, not just base salary). What does this mean? Well, men still take home more than $25,000 a year on average than women.
And yes, that was the good news…
The gender balance at the governance level of our major corporates (where the biggest dollars are earned and greatest influence wielded) remains fairly static. The number of women CEOs and women on corporate boards has barely shifted. Women still dominate the low status, low income and part time jobs in our economy, with the distribution of caring responsibilities continuing to be a major causative factor.
“The average Australian worker is still a full-time bloke who earns considerably more than his colleague, who is likely a part-time woman. That has to change.”
According to WGEA’s new data, Australian women still account for almost 95 percent of paid parental leave take up. You might assume this is an immovable figure given the fact women ultimately are the ones who have to carry and bear children. However Scandinavian countries are having far greater success in establishing earlier and more even distribution of parenting responsibilities. Furthermore, when it comes to unpaid caring for the disabled, sick or elderly, Australian women’s still do the lions’ share. This isn’t about biology, it’s about culture.
WGEA’s Director, Libby Lyons, acknowledges that corporate Australia has more to do when it comes to paid parental leave. “For every hour of unpaid care that men do in Australia, women are doing an hour and 46 minutes.,” she told me. “We need to look at paid parental leave for men so that men can be fathers, so they can be present in their children’s lives”.
Part of the problem may be that too many employers still have a ‘tick the box’ approach to gender equality. While more than three quarters of those organisations reporting to WGEA had a gender equality strategy or policy, only around 30 percent have implemented KPIs for their managers that require actual improvement. So, are the others simply engaging in empty rhetoric? Writing a pretty page for their annual reports but failing to give their policies the requisite bite to achieve real change.
Lyons is quick to defend the progress that has been made by employers. “The reason we’ve seen the pay gap go down and seen advances in the indicators is because we are seeing organisations taking action,” she explains firmly. “The ones that are taking action are the smart ones”. Lyons says that, “there are still a big proportion of those that report into us who have not taken action. If they continue to sit on their laurels and not put an action plan in place, they are not going to remain competitive”.
“For every hour of unpaid care that men do in Australia, women are doing an hour and 46 minutes.”
The data indicates that too many employers approach flexible caring arrangements as a women’s issue. A measly 1.6 percent of reporting organisations have targets for the engagement of men in flexible work. Yet, Lyons says this is key to achieving real change in this area. “In order to normalise flexible work for men, we have to engage men” she says. “The key is flexible work. Organisations need to realise that [being physically present] doesn’t equal productivity. Someone sitting at a desk doesn’t necessarily equal outcomes”.
When Labor first introduced government-funded paid parental leave, the scheme was always intended to work in tandem with employers. After all, paid parental leave has been shown to have enormous benefits for organisations, including improved employee engagement, employee loyalty and critically, productivity. However, it may be that employers have become too reliant on the government scheme, assuming that paid caring leave is no longer a space they’re expected to occupy.
This sort of thinking is terribly short-sighted. It completely ignores the fact that workplace strategies are just as important to driving gender equity in workplaces as government policies. Culture is shaped on the ground, not in Canberra. To see more substantial shifts in the numbers WGEA released today, it’s going to take a collective effort. The data shows us that the average Australian worker is still a full-time bloke who earns considerably more than his colleague, who is likely a part-time woman. That has to change.
Lyons stresses that collecting this data and reporting is a useful process for employers in and of itself. “Organisations actually have to focus their minds on what is happening in their own workplace in collating the data they then send in to us. It gives us a more granular view and understanding of what has happened. Through collecting the data, we can provide businesses back with benchmarks and competitor analysis, to show them where they sit comparatively. It gives a picture of where they are and where they need to go”.
In summary? Where they are has improved – just a smidge – on last year and where they need to go is still an awfully long way.
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