Australian women still scraping by for equal pay

By Melissa Coade

February 14, 2022

gender pay gap
(Hyejin Kang/Adobe)

Slight improvement in the latest gender pay gap data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has ‘barely’ made inroads to address ‘persistent and sizeable’ salary inequality between women and men. 

About 85% of Australian workplaces reported pay gaps in favour of men, according to WGEA’s latest gender equality insight report

The report was informed by a 2020-21 census on gender equality for non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees, and found that the pay gap in the nation’s total remuneration narrowed by 0.5% since the last financial year to 22.8%. 

This slight improvement represented a substantial difference in take-home pay of $25,792, WGEA found, but also paints an incomplete picture given just under half (48.5%) of workplaces surveyed did their own gender pay gap analysis.

WGEA director Mary Wooldridge said there were mixed, small improvements in workplaces in the eighth year the data has been collected but said there remained pay gaps across every industry and occupation. 

“From the very top-down, women are undervalued in Australian businesses and underrepresented where decisions are made,” Wooldridge said.

The new data showed that 47% of managerial promotions went to women in the 2020-21 financial year and, for the first time, women now account for more than 4 in 10 (41%) of all managers (up from 35.9% over eight years).

It was clear decision-making structures in Australia were still dominated by men, Woodridge added, noting that fewer than 1 in 5 CEOs in the country are women.

“Our latest insights show this pattern clearly: 22% of all boards still don’t have a single woman in the room, and about ¾ of all boards have a vast majority (over 60%) of men.

“Of those heavily male-dominated boards, only 12% have set a target to increase the representation of women, and on average that target is only 35% — not even what is generally considered a balanced board,” Wooldridge said. 

Woodridge also highlighted research the agency conducted with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) that estimated gender parity at CEO level in Australia would not be achieved for another 80 years on current rates of progress. 

“There needs to be clear pathways for women to work in the right line roles so they can take the next step to leading organisations,” she said.

“The data and research have established a clear business imperative: having more women in key decision-making positions delivers better company performance, greater productivity and greater profitability as well as improved gender equality.”

WGEA used the 2020-21 scorecard on gender equality to map earnings across four pay quartiles from the highest to lowest-paid workers.

Data showing women with top jobs in Australian workplaces exacerbated gender pay gap figures, and were reflected in women’s and men’s average earnings across the workforce.

“Men are twice as likely to be highly paid than women in Australia, with salaries of $120,000 or more, while it’s virtually the reverse for women, who are substantially overrepresented at the bottom level of all earners,” Woodridge said.

Additional research conducted by WGEA and BCEC found that more women in leadership positions helped to improve industry-wide gender pay gaps and measures to improve income equality were three times more effective when combined with reporting to business leaders and the board.

“Nearly half of employers who did a pay audit took no subsequent action, many believing the gaps identified are explainable or justified. However, just because a pay gap is understandable doesn’t mean it’s right: action can and should be taken.

“Organisations that are transparent and accountable with their pay gap audits saw an average reduction of 3.3 percentage points in their organisation-wide gender pay gap in one year,” Woodridge said.


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