Small improvements don't outweigh the elephant in the room. That's what Australia's latest gender equality scorecard, compiled by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), shows. Even though 42% of employers have managed to reduce their gender pay gaps since 2020, the overwhelming majority haven't even achieved parity: 85% of Australian employers pay men more than women, and women across the country are still earning an average of $25,792 less than men annually.
It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, though. What the data actually shows isn't so much role-based bias against women - where they might be making less than men for doing the same job - but a systemic issue that makes women 50% more likely than men to be in the bottom earnings quartile (earning $60,000 or less) while men are twice as likely to be in the top quartile, earning $120,000 or more. Women are "substantially overrepresented at the bottom level of all earners,” says WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge.
This gap is closely related to the fact that women are disproportionately underrepresented at the top of decision-making structures. They make up 50% of the workforce, but less than 20% of CEOs or board chairs. While they are present on boards, they make up less than 40% of directors, and the majority of male-dominated boards are apparently making little or no effort to increase female representation, according to Wooldridge.
"Of those heavily male-dominated boards (75% of all 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,” she said.
On the bright side, employers are offering increased support for women in areas such as flexible work, paid domestic violence leave and parental leave, with primary carer's leave increasingly being offered to men as well as women - although the data suggests that men are still not taking parental leave for whatever reason, even when it's available. Men made up only 12% of those who took parental leave in 2021.
What's the path forward? Get more women into leadership positions, and also be transparent and accountable about their pay gap audits. Both of these factors contribute to reductions in the gender pay gap, according to WGEA.
“These policies and practices are no longer just the right thing to do. They actually set employers apart and act to attract the talent they need for their businesses in a tight talent market," said Wooldridge. "If you’re not making progress on these things, your employees may realise there are others who are – and vote with their feet.”