Equal work for equal pay? Will the workplace of the future help close the gender gap?

Today we ‘celebrate’ a small step in the journey for equal pay for equal work.  The national gender pay gap has reached its lowest level in 20 years at 14.6 percent. So, this year, Equal Pay Day is today, marking the 62 additional days from the end of the previous financial year that women must work to earn the same pay as men.

Glacial progress, but nevertheless a tiny step towards equality. Who would have thought the pace would be so slow when equal pay was introduced in 1969 and legislated in Australia in 1984.

Equal pay may be elusive but perhaps there is some hope in the changing nature of work.

The Future of Work discussion is forcing us to think about work participation in new and different ways, driving us to consider the new skills and capabilities required in the future.

Although many see the future of work and increasing digitisation, robotics and AI and fear this means job loses, this is not the whole picture.

Work by the OECD in 2017 that looked specifically at women in the digital world believe it will advantage women. They say, “The job effects of digitalisation will depend crucially on skills. Skills provide an important safeguard against the risk of automation. Fewer than 5 percent of workers with a tertiary degree are at a high risk of losing their job due to automation, on average, compared to 40 percent of workers with a lower secondary degree (Arntz et al, 2016; OECD, 2016c). This advantages women as across OECD countries they are more tertiary educated women than men.

It is not quite as simple as this but overall this is good news for women, but has the potential for opening opportunities for both men and women.

Historically we have under invested in science and tech specifically in women and we are seeing this very obviously now in our workforce. This is changing the way we train people. Reskilling our workforce to open more opportunities for equal participation in future roles. But the discussion is not just ‘science and technology’ vs ‘creativity, collaboration and critical thinking’. In the future, success will require a blend of both skills sets

The workplace of the future will also be both fluid and mobile. People will timeshift and the workplace will be more flexible. This embracing of flexible and agile workplaces will continue to benefit women who still traditionally move in and out of the workplace more frequently than men.

The WGEA data indicates we have decreased the gap in pay equity from 15.3 – 14.6 percent but driving equal participation will be critical to keep progressing this work.

The Future of Work discussions gives us the opportunity to change the system – instead of having to fit women into an unequal system. But it will take more than a ‘brave new world’ to fix pay inequality. This still needs a concerted effort and focus. Policies set a foundation for equity but we must continue our focus on managing bias and driving day to day inclusive leadership principles.

We still have a long way to go, but we are actively “getting amongst it”. And despite work in the future opening up more equal opportunity, what is still so vitally important is that equal opportunity must also mean equal pay. Both women and men must continue to urge business to think differently, reinvent, and respond to the changing market. But most importantly to correct what is wrong from the past.

This story from the WGEA of Amelia and William is fictional, but is based on data. Why not take a few extra minutes, enjoy and learn from Pay Gaps and Life Hacks.



8 thoughts on “Equal work for equal pay? Will the workplace of the future help close the gender gap?

  1. Thanks for the article Deborah, really great to see the issue of equal pay and gender equality in the workplace continued to be discussed. Agree with you in that keeping this discussion open is a great opportunity to reinvent the way we do things in continuing to correct the inequalities of the past, as well as to embrace inclusive leadership principles. Wonderful leadership from yourself in unpacking this issue and wonderful to see KPMG’s support for it also.

  2. Thanks for the article, Deborah.
    It led me to open the report to take a read – there is a lot to take in! Interesting to see the number of factors that contribute to the gender pay gap (I noted that 38% is due to gender discrimination, with several other key factors, p12-13).
    I was also interested to read the case study on KPMG, which mentioned the ‘analytics reporting tool which enables us to track performance and remuneration results by gender in real time’ (p54). I assume this is partly where KPMG’s quest for greater transparency is supported. Good to see KPMG taking this measure to monitor remuneration.
    Again, thank you. It’s important to support continued discussion on the topic.

  3. Great article – thanks Deborah for sharing your opinions. I, and many colleagues, wholeheartedly agree with your call to action. The Future of Work will hopefully be another lever of change for removing the ongoing barriers that women face in accessing equal opportunities and rewards in our workplaces.

    The Australian Government WGEA’s Equal Pay Day cheat sheet (https://www.wgea.gov.au/wgea-newsroom/equal-pay-day-cheat-sheet) is a great resource for those wanting to improve their understanding of the gender pay gap.

    Misconceptions about Equal Pay Day are quite unhelpful, as they distract us from the really important work that we all need to do: removing the structural barriers and inherent biases that disadvantage women in our workplaces.

    I look forward to the year when we don’t need to ‘celebrate’ Equal Pay Day — so people of all genders can receive equal pay and equal opportunities at work.

  4. Certainly seeing a lot of clients who continue to set targets on gender equality and measure their progress. There continue to be workplaces and professions which operate as ‘boys clubs’ and create gender barriers in this respect outside of just the salary gap. Great to see that you are keeping the conversation going on this issue!

  5. Hi Deborah, thank you for sharing those facts and your well researched opinions in this eloquent article. It’s a shame that there are still people out there who continue to miss the point, which just highlights the need for us to keep starting these discussions and advocate for equality.

    1. Shellee. That’s not an argument? I provided reasoned factual commentary highlighting the difference between national averages and individual circumstances and your response implied I simply missed the point (ad hominen attack?). Can you help me understand which part of my response was in error so I can learn and develop as you suggest I might need to?

  6. Hi. Thanks for the article. Is the 14.6% figure an average for all men versus all women? If so this is misleading.
    Consider an economy with 20 workers, 10 men and 10 women. All who work earn the same hourly rate, however while all 10 men work full-time, only 6 women work full-time, two work part time (50%), and two stay at home looking after kids. In this scenario the pay gap is 30% despite there being ‘equal pay for equal work’.

    Use of national averages is misleading in terms of hours worked (men generally work longer hours), experience (men have less time out of the workplace and thus more experience and earn higher salaries), workforce participation (men participate at a higher rate than women due home duties, care for sick/elderly family), and career choices (men work in higher paying industries on average – e.g. mining).

    I think it’s misleading to cite reason for a national average gender pay gap is only unequal pay for equal work. Note also that a good portion of the workforce is on National Awards where it is simply impossible to pay different wage rates depending on sex (or any other attribute). Even the WGEA acknowledges that the gap “reflects the overall position of women in the workforce and does not reflect ‘like-for-like’ pay gaps for employees in the same or comparable roles”.

    Having said that I’m fully behind freedom of choice and the breaking down of barriers for entry on women into say engineering/science, and men in health/education. Ditto for supporting women with support for return to work (e.g. efficient and effective childcare options). But we need to be careful with national averages. For example I recently read (but can’t find now) that full-time, unmarried, childless women under 30 earn 8% more than full-time, unmarried, childless men; likely due to the higher proportion of university graduates among women than men and higher earnings potential in early career phases. But I don’t advocate for policy changes based on this as it reflects individual choices.



    1. Thank you dearly for shedding light on that Mark. The author seems to have misused the recent statistic shared by the ABS, a statistic which is essentially meaningless and perpetuates the debunked ‘gender pay gap’.

      Deborah, I suggest you conduct more in depth research before writing on such a topic, and I would like to see you present your new findings once you sufficiently consider like-for-like roles. Further, I think that this article and your lack or research is irresponsible, and it leads me to question KPMG ‘s hiring policies.

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