The Gender Pay Gap In Australia

I joined nineteen other women and one man for Executive Women Australia’s  (EWA) robust roundtable covering the topic which is currently heavily featured in the headlines: Australia’s ever growing gender gap and the implications this will have on the longer term cost to our society. The group did not represent experts in the field, but met as senior professionals committed to producing equity within the senior ranks of the Australian work force.

EWA’s aim for this event is to support Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) targets which rolled out in July 2013. Its purpose is to get everyone in the room focusing on the finishing line by socialising the concept of an Australian gender target and to put some thoughts on what this may mean and look like for women climbing the corporate ladder.

Tara Cheesman executive director of EWA asked “how will we know when the gender parity has been reached across the Australian workforce and how will we measure the key indicators?”

The biggest concern for Diana Ryall, former CEO of Apple Australia, was the need for more women on boards to support the program. However, not enough people are talking about the pipeline to getting women to stay within organisations and achieving great things.

The panel agreed that corporations need to look at flexible working hours. And not just for women.

The red hot topic was improving the gender pay gap; the latest WGEA report highlighted a 25% gap between females and males in the finance industry alone.

Diana shared her experience on the injustice of the gender gap whilst working in the corporate sector, being paid a shameful 50% less than market average. She then spent the next three years working towards what she should have been paid in the first place. Clearly, this presents a disincentive for talented women stay within an organisation or stay on the corporate ladder. I know, I certainly would struggle to achieve great things knowing I wasn’t valued for my expertise and penalised for my gender.

NSW has a shocking figure of only 25% Australian women earning $100,000+ per annum, 16% in Queensland and 20% in Victoria. It is also important to note there are only twelve female CEOs currently on the ASX500.

Do we need more women role models? What do women need to sacrifice to get to the top?

Another major concern is the downward effects of gender pay equality.  The gap is much bigger at the bottom of the corporate ladder than the top. Perhaps, the cause is much better served by closing the pay gap at the bottom of the ladder until an equilibrium point is reached where men and women are paid the same on entering the corporate arena.

So do we need to look at the way we feed the pipeline of women climbing the corporate ladder? Do we need to make a shift in our perspective in order for the WGEA program to have sustainability and longevity?

Yolanda Vega, CEO of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, reported that in Australia there are 2.2 million people living below the poverty line, the majority are women working in service based industries.  There is a strong argument towards addressing the pay gap at the bottom of the ladder rather than pushing a few women to the top. Yolanda argues the latter excludes the majority of women on the way up who may drop off due to lack of support.  Interestingly, she also highlighted that more and more women leave the corporate sector to start up their own businesses to get the sense of fulfilment, achievement and work-life balance they could not get in corporate life.

A more fundamental issue remains. Executives clock up between 60 to 70 hour each week. As a woman who is likely to be running a household, how does one juggle a stressful, time-consuming corporate gig with familial responsibilities? The current system is not designed to support these practicalities.

So, is it a deeper sociality issue? Do we need more equality in the household?

There are many issues that need to be addressed for change to occur. The UK has set a goal of 25% increase of women at board level by 2015.  If Australia had a goal to help women progress and be seen in the top jobs, would this help build the pipeline?

Are targets the answer? Should corporations be made to set targets?

Targets are measurable; what is measured is actioned. Things get done and the shift starts to happen. The world bank released some figures explaining that if we progress at the rate we currently do, it will take Australia 174 years to reach desired levels of equality and the rest of the world 800 years.

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Krista Smith

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