The gender pay gap: more than an historical anomaly

Susan Ferrier, National Managing Partner, People, Performance  Culture
Susan Ferrier, National Managing Partner, People, Performance Culture

Today is Equal Pay Day.

And it is not just a random choice that it falls, this year, on 4 September. Today is 65 days from the start of the financial year; the number of extra days that women, on average, would need to work to earn the same as men.

Let’s skim through a few of the facts.

ABS statistics show the national gender pay gap has dropped slightly to 17.9 percent from 18.3 percent in 2014. A tiny 0.4 percent and there has not been much improvement over the past two decades.

The gender pay gap is not industry specific. Women in lower paid occupations are just as likely to be paid less than women in professional services and some of the highest gender pay gaps are found in female-dominated industries including health care and social assistance.

For women, becoming a parent only exacerbates the problem. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) calls it the “motherhood penalty” reporting that, “taking parental leave also has a negative effect on women’s wage growth and this pay penalty increases with the length of leave taken”.

It took over 25 years for the idea of equal pay for equal work to get from the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations convention to legislation. In Australia, until 1973, many women received lower pay simply because they were women. That year the Arbitration Commission set a minimum wage for all adults. It would seem that this would be the end of it and that women would no longer stand outside trade halls with placards which read “Equal pay is a human right” and “Unequal pay is sex discrimination”.

But it has not gone away and the current gender pay gap means women are earning just over 82 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn.

Just as the placards said more than 40 years ago, equal pay remains a human rights issue.

It’s not just an immediate problem, pay inequality affects lifetime savings and retirement income.

The 2015 Westpac Women and Retirement Readiness Report found that there is a $145,000 gap between the median superannuation account balance of women and men with the average 60 year old Australian woman needing to work an extra 15 years to retire with the same superannuation balance as men.

On Equal Pay Day I urge you to take action. The benefits are more than material. Organisations that embrace pay equity have stronger employee loyalty and reduced turnover. Do the cost benefit analysis on this and you will see the benefit. Employees are more engaged and have less complaints. And most importantly you will attract the best talent because you will have access to the whole talent pool.

WGEA suggests a six point plan towards pay equity.

  1. Awareness and understanding:
  2. Build a business case:
  3. Gain leadership commitment:
  4. Data analysis:
  5. Strategy and action:
  6. Review and refine:

You can find all the detail here.

I can’t see any reason why gender pay equity should not be zero per cent. It makes me feel sad that progress is so slow. I would prefer to imagine a story that we can tell our grandchildren where we were the generation that solved one of the great inequities of humanity – gender pay equity.

How amazing would that be?!

Feature Image: Equal pay activist Mrs Zelda D’Aprano (who was chained to the front doors of the Commonwealth Centre) with women from the Meatworks, 1969, outside the Trades Hall.

One thought on “The gender pay gap: more than an historical anomaly

  1. I remember my mother celebrating with my sister and I when the legislation was passed. She was not a placard carrier, although my father was. She would be very disappointed to think that many women are still waiting for it to be a reality.

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