Latest data shows that the gender pay gap in Australia has dropped to 13.4 per cent, but experts are urging companies to prioritise gender equality in the workplace.
Women working full-time earned, on average, $1562.00 per week, while men working full-time earned $1804.20, research from Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shows. That means women are taking home $242.20 less per week than men.
While the national gender pay gap has improved slightly, this is mostly due to shifts in the labour market rather than progress on equality.
WGEA’s analysis of the data, which draws on Average Weekly Earnings series data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), shows the pay gap dropped to 13.4 per cent, a decline of 0.6 percentage points over the past six months.
This result reflects labour market volatility caused by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, said WGEA director Libby Lyons.
“I understand that this result is, in part, due to an increase in the number of men in lower-paid full-time employment. After all the economic shocks and uncertainties we lived through in 2020, it is very welcome news to have more people in full-time jobs. It is also a very positive sign that our economic recovery is underway,” she said.
However, Lyons emphasised that the data does not reflect any underlying structural changes to women’s overall position in the workforce.
“I expect to see more labour market volatility over the next 12-24 months as the nation settles into a new post-COVID-19 employment environment,” she said.
“As the nation’s recovery progresses, we may well see male wages increase with little or no positive improvement in the wages of women. If this happens, it is feasible that the gender pay gap will increase.
“It is also important to highlight that this figure does not consider the number of women and men who are under-employed, that is those who have left the workforce or have had their hours reduced.”
Lyons reminds Australian employers that they still need to ensure gender equality remains a top business priority, stating that there are indications that the momentum towards gender equality in workplaces is stalling.
“The challenge we now face is to ensure that all employers take immediate action to remedy this and reverse the indicative trend,” she said.
While Lyons appreciates that 2020 was a difficult year for many Australian businesses, she said we “cannot allow the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to be an excuse for inaction and inertia”.
“Our economic recovery depends on women and men having genuine choice and equal access to re-engage and fully participate in the workforce. In fact, the business case is very clear. Improving gender equality outcomes in your business will improve your company’s performance, productivity and profitability.”
How the Gender Code impacts the gender pay gap
Author, speaker, coach, and corporate consultant Danielle Dobson said while the latest gender pay gap statistics show a slight decrease, it’s important to look at why the gap exists and how it impacts women.
“The numbers this year have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 so I’m not sure we can make meaningful assumptions,” she said.
“There are many reasons why the gap exists, and it is primarily due to the Gender Code.”
The Gender Code, as Dobson explains, is a set of default beliefs we all recognise about the ‘natural’ differences between men and women that keeps the genders firmly in different boxes and specifically prevents women from pursuing their dreams and achieving success.
“The Gender Code has been deeply embedded into our culture over millennia. The Gender Code pigeonholes women in the role of carer and men in the role of provider. And the work of the provider is more highly valued by individuals and society than the work of the carer,” she said.
Understanding this concept, Dobson said, it’s not difficult to see how the gender pay gap plays out.
“Women are over-represented in ‘caring’ professions in the workplace, and they typically take on the majority of the caring responsibilities in the home and beyond. It’s a double hit of undervalued caring work and it’s having a devastating impact on many women,” she said.
The Gender Code creates what Dobson refers to as “a lifetime earnings pay gap” where women earn less over their career, retire with an estimated 47 per cent less superannuation than men, and are more likely to experience economic insecurity.
For us to truly see the gender pay gap close, Dobson said we have to break down gender stereotypes in families, schools, communities, sporting clubs, the media, and politics.
“Stop putting women and girls and men and boys in gendered boxes based on their behaviour,” she said.
“Rather than leading with gender, focus on what the individual is good at – their strengths and natural aptitudes in a non-gendered way. See, acknowledge, and help them leverage who they actually are rather than what the Gender Code (or other’s objectives) dictates they should be.”
Dobson also emphasised that workplaces need to include more flexible working, ‘caring friendly’ policies, and must minimise unconscious bias in hiring and promoting women.