Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra

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Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Equal Pay Day? We’re not there yet!

Sep 3, 2017 | News

Written by Megan Deas

Q: The average full-time gender pay gap currently sits at 15.3%. Is that an improvement on last year?

 A: It is an improvement on last year, it’s down a full percentage point from 16.2%. But what we don’t know is whether it will continue on a downward trend. Over the past 20 years, the gender pay gap has hovered between 15 and 19%, so it’s currently at the lower end of the spectrum. But it can be influenced by factors that aren’t really to do with gender equality, such as slow wage growth.

Q: Why is it taking so long to close the gap?

A: It’s taking a long time because it’s actually a really big cultural change. What underpins the gender pay gap are essentially quite entrenched ideas about women’s and men’s roles – in paid and unpaid work.

The research tells us that the main factors are firstly, outright bias and discrimination around pay. The second issue is discrimination in the workforce and the kinds of industries that women and men congregate in, with female-dominated industries generally attracting lower pay.

What underpins the gender pay gap are essentially quite entrenched ideas about women’s and men’s roles – in paid and unpaid work.

And the third factor is the greater time out of the workforce that women spend on unpaid care work. And I think employers are still trying to work out how to fully utilise employees who for whatever reason can’t be at their desks for 35 or 40 hours a week, what would be considered a normal working week.

Screenshot 2017 09 03 19.39.45

How does the gender pay gap add up over a woman’s lifetime? These three infographics tell the story. Source: WGEA

Q: Would you say then that flexibility is important to solving the gap?

A: Flexibility is absolutely critical to achieving improved workplace gender equality. Flexibility needs to be seen as normal for all employees, not just for women and not just for those with caring responsibilities.

In order for women to access the flexibility that they need to manage their other responsibilities, it’s often seen as a special arrangement, for which they have had to trade off seniority, or salary, or they’ve had to move to a role with less responsibility.

Flexibility is absolutely critical to achieving improved workplace gender equality.

Under a model where flexibility is commonplace and available to everyone, this would remove those barriers that have prevented women with caring responsibilities from progressing in the workforce.  

Q: How important is transparency around salaries to achieving parity?

A: When it comes to transparency, what the data very clearly shows is that where there are strict parameters around salaries, pay gaps are lower. Where pays can be set by individual negotiation, outcomes tend to very much favour men, and this can be seen especially at management level.

So transparency doesn’t necessarily mean ‘we should know what everyone else is paid’, it’s more important to have transparency around what individuals need to do in order to get from one pay level to the next, or how bonuses are awarded.

Screenshot 2017 09 03 19.40.07 updated

Q: The WGEA’s 2015-2016 gender equality scorecard reports that 70.7% of employers have a gender equality policy in place, but only 27% have conducted a gender pay gap analysis. Why aren’t more organisations including a pay gap analysis as part of their gender equality strategies?

 A: What we find is that organisations often don’t realise they have a problem until they look at the data. It’s positive that more employers are seeing gender equality as an issue and are implementing strategies to deal with it, but there is a difference between having a policy on paper and doing the work to really fix things.

Sometimes the reality is that conducting a pay gap analysis is just not a priority. A way to change that is to have more employees asking whether an organisation has conducted one, and we need more boards asking the question too, so there’s pressure from above and below.

Sometimes the reality is that conducting a pay gap analysis is just not a priority.

The UK has this year introduced a gender pay gap reporting scheme where all organisations of 250 employees or more will have to publish their gender pay gap information on a website.

This demonstrates that in an era of slow economic growth, governments are looking to these initiatives to realising the economic potential of women in the workforce. Because the gender pay gap is a loss to women of course, but it’s also a loss to business and the economy.

The gender pay gap is a loss to women of course, but it’s also a loss to business and the economy.

Screenshot 2017 09 03 19.40.22 updated

Q: Is the UK initiative something Australia would consider introducing?

A: We’re certainly keeping an eye on it, currently in Australia employers need to report to us but they do not need to publish the information. This is a dynamic space, so we will be interested to see what impact the UK program has.

Q: What more can organisations do to close the gender pay gap?

A: The first thing is for them to look at their data, the second thing is to think about how entrenched gender divisions can be broken down within organisations, certainly in leadership roles, but also in other high-paid roles that tend to be dominated by men, such as technical roles.

But it really comes down to normalising flexibility. Our data shows that only 6% of manager roles are worked part time, which is quite revealing when women are the bulk of part-time workers are women. There is currently very little acceptance of management roles being worked part time, so this is something we’d like to see change.

For more information on #EqualPayDay, visit the WGEA website. Their Data Explorer features scorecards, industry profiles, and comparison tools.

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