Q: What is the gender pay gap?
A: The simple answer to that question is that the gender pay gap is the average difference in renumeration between men and women in the workforce. On average, women earn less, and this accounts for the 'gap'.
The more complex questions are:
- How wide is this gap? (because it varies from country to country, and then even further depending on what workforce you're in)
- Why is there a gap? Is it as simple as pointing the finger at someone in government, or is it problem that's deeply entrenched in society?
- And why are there are substantial amount of people who don't believe that the gender pay gap exists?
Good thing we aren't afraid to tackle the tough questions! Let's try and break down the gender wage gap in Australia.
The Gender Pay Gap in Australia
The gender pay gap isn't a case of employers going "Oh, Debra from Accounting? She's a woman isn't she? Yep, dock her pay then". There are several complex factors that contribute to existence of the pay gap, including:
- discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions
- women and men working in different industries and different jobs, with female-dominated industries and jobs attracting lower wages
- women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work
- lack of workplace flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities, especially in senior roles
- women’s greater time out of the workforce impacting career progression and opportunities.
Not only is that unpaid caring and domestic house work a pain, and a drain on us emotionally, but it's eating into our productivity time. Melinda Gates, author of "The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World" and co-founder of the world's largest charity The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says women, on average, spend seven more years doing “unpaid” household work than men over their lifetimes, and if women are able to lower their weekly unpaid work from seven hours a week down to five, their workforce productivity would be boosted by about 20%.
Is the wage gap real?
"CAROL...CAROL!! I've debunked it! The gender pay gap is a myth!
If you type 'gender pay gap Australia' into YouTube, a vast amount of videos pop up purporting to have proof that the gender pay gap doesn't exist. I've watched many in my time, and there was no way I could watch them all again today. I just didn't have the inner strength to listen to Jordan Peterson being repeatedly referenced all afternoon. So I watched one video, a refresher if you will, entitled 'The Gender Pay Gap (What Is The Truth)?' by Australian comedian and YouTube Isaac Butterfield.
Plot twist - its contents were far from refreshing.
In the video, some of arguments brought up by Isaac are very valid. He says it's illegal to pay a woman a lesser salary than a man who does the same job as her in the same company, and this is correct. We can thank our nation's anti-discrimination laws for that. But this doesn't stop the gender pay gap from existing, and that's because the gender pay gap isn't about measuring if a man and woman, working the exact same job, at the exact same company, pulling the exact same hours, are getting paid the exact same wage. The gender pay gap is about comparing the wages of full-time working men and full-time working women, and working out why women earn on average $239.80 less per week than men.
That statistic is from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), who are tasked with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces. But Issac's got some concerns about WGEA after listening to the Director Libbie Lyons speak on A Current Affair.
"Everything she [Libbie Lyons] says has to be taken with a grain of salt" he says. "Not because she's a woman, but because she's the leader of a group which relies on the gender wage gap existing for them to exist. Everything that she says in this video has an agenda attached to it. It doesn't mean everything she says is wrong, it just means you have to look at it a few times."
Before Libbie Lyons worked as the WGEA Director, she was
- A primary school teacher
- On the boards of non-profit organisations SIDS and Kids WA
- Executive Chairman for Kalparrin
- Head of BHP Billiton’s Olympic Dam corporate affairs division
And had senior roles at Atlas Iron, CITIC Pacific Mining, Alcoa Australia, the Western Power Corporation and Telstra. I somehow doubt that she'd be out of a job if the gender pay gap suddenly disappeared and we had no more need for WGEA. Maybe this is an example of the "global revolt against experts" which the late Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest minds of our generation, warned the world of during his last message in 2018.
Isaac then goes on to talk about Michelle Williams, and the news that broke in 2017 that she was paid 8 times less than her All the Money in The World co-star Mark Wahlberg for the reshoots that were necessary to replace actor Kevin Spacey.
According to the producer of 'The Gender Pay Gap (What Is The Truth)?' this is because:
- "It's Mark f-ing Wahlberg!"
- "All I do know is that Mark f-ing Wahlberg is worth more to a movie than an actress that I haven't heard of, or an actor that I've never heard of because he puts bums on seats."
Good news Michelle, we worked out what went wrong! It's because no one has heard of you. Except that can't be right? Because Michelle Williams is has been nominated for 4 Oscars and has 41 wins to her name. Mark Wahlberg has two Oscar nominations and 21 wins under his belt, and he donated the money he received to Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund in Michelle Williams’ name. (you're the real MVP Mark).
To conclude - there may cases of "Does the wage gap exist in Australia?" and "Evidence that the wage gap is a myth" videos online. Where you decide to get information from is up to you, but I believe that the gender pay gap exists.
How does Australia compare to other countries?
- According to WGEA, the average full-time working woman is paid $1,455.80 and the average full-time working man is paid $1,695.60.
- Australia's full time gender pay gap currently sits at 14.1%, but it is at its lowest in Victoria (9.3%) and at its highest in Western Australia (23.1%).
- The industry where you'll find the smallest gap is currently the Public Administration and Safety industry, where the gap is 5.1%. The industry where the gap is widest, 26.9%, is in Financial and Insurance Services.
If we want to see where Australia stands on a world stage, we can look at the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, which is produced by the non-for-profit organisation World Economic Forum. One subindex of the report is Economic Participation and Opportunity - which measures participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap in the workforce between men and women. In this category, Australia was ranked 46th, and overall was ranked 39th out of 149 countries. The highest ranked countries were Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland - referred to as 'The Nordic Nirvana' because of their gender equality.
The gender wage gap in industries
It's good to see that things are improving in some industries, especially in women's sport. Last year it was finally decided that Australia's female rugby sevens team, the reigning Olympic champions, would receive the same salary as their male counterparts. So far, these industries are responsible for the highest paying jobs for women in Australia. The motto of this year's International Women's Day was 'Balance for Better', so let's take that sentiment forward and continue working to close Australia's pay gap.