The gender pay gap isn’t going anywhere but up.
Last year’s Global Gender Gap Report told us “gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.” Unless medicine makes some quick leaps and bounds, that means most of us alive today won’t see it happen.
Instead, we’re witnessing a slide backwards. COVID’s done damage across the board, but it hasn’t hit everyone equally. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WEGA) “the national gender pay gap…widened between November and May, by 0.8 percentage points to 14.2 per cent.” This means that men make over $25,000 more than women, on average, every year.
As Libby Lyons, the director of WEGA, has succinctly put it, “We can’t afford history to repeat itself, for the gender pay gap to go up and for it to take a decade off what we have gained”. Closing the gap has proven a slow process, and while it inches along, women are vulnerable to events like COVID.
“Women constitute 38.0% of all full-time employees and 67.6% of all part-time employees,” according to WEGA. They make less than men in their first year out of university, a disparity that grows between higher-level graduates. There were also fewer women studying last year: “86,000 fewer…at university in 2020 compared with 2019”. Men’s enrollment increased.
The concentration of women in part-time work and lower-paid industries, paired with unpaid care-taking, create less economic stability; a higher percentage of women in Australia have an outstanding student loan. For those reaching retirement (60-64), women’s median superannuation balances have decreased since 2019. Women continue to hold a minority of senior-level positions, are more impacted by disruptions to child-care and suffered a higher rate of COVID-related job losses last year.
Looking to the future, those numbers aren’t improving. The government’s decision to cut spending on the Arts and Humanities impacts women more than men. Larger student loans for entry into lower-paid jobs will compound the barriers women already face in the workforce. A “work and survey data shows that 20% of women who want to start work or work more felt they were unable to do so because of care-related reasons.”
And, as if that wasn’t enough, COVID also resulted in the rates of domestic abuse ticking up. “More than two-thirds of DFV agencies surveyed reported an increase in new clients”. Women experienced higher levels of coercion and control, centered on the pandemic.
The gender pay gap and the resulting inequalities suffered by women aren’t an easy fix. There isn’t a quick solution to a multi-faceted and systemic issue.
We can look to the government for changes: increased funding for victims of domestic abuse paired with increased access to childcare. Better yet, free childcare, and a move away from recent policies that increase casual work while reducing pay for part-time workers, with caps on pay in the public sector.
Companies have power, though. There are necessary policy shifts, but some of these need to happen in our own workplaces.
- What are your company’s parental leave policies? Are they centred on the “primary” versus “secondary” carer? While this looks less gendered at face value, unequal access to parental leave between parents means that women spend more time out of the office with their kids, creating larger gaps in their careers.
- Flexibility is about more than whether you can work at home or in the office. True flexibility means reassessing how and when meetings are conducted, and whether employees who choose to stay at home will lose out to the employees who are physically present when it comes to better jobs and promotions.
- Conduct audits. “The 2021 Gender Equity Insights Report…showed that employers who consistently did pay audits between 2015-20 closed their managerial pay gaps faster than all other companies. By contrast, those who stopped doing pay audits actually saw their managerial pay gaps increase.” Biases lie. Numbers don’t.
- Take a hard look at your company’s culture. “We must move beyond simply looking at getting women ‘into the pipeline’ and also attend to the quality of women’s working lives in these male-dominated contexts in order to nurture and retain talented women.” It’s one thing to get women into STEM. It’s another to create an environment where they are listened to.
- Representation matters. More women in senior-level positions mean more women who have access to mentors. It also means more voices at the table who have an understanding of the struggles women face entering into higher-paying spaces.
No one has the power to single-handedly fix the pay gap. But this isn’t an excuse to ignore the real impact our decisions in our workplaces have on women. Audits need to happen on every level: pay, promotions, policies and culture.
We may have slipped backwards during the pandemic, but we’re not stuck on that track. Conscious decisions can make real change for the women in all of our lives!