pay gaps

Gender Pay Gap won’t close without tougher action

We need to ask why more companies and government aren't reporting their gender pay gaps when equality is a generation away.

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Corporate actions on closing the gender pay gap are increasingly looking like window dressing at best.

New research on the gender pay gaps of nearly 5000 companies, which report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, shows that while the full-time wage disparity has fallen to 20.1% from 24.7% in the last seven years, it is likely to take another 26 years for it to close completely.

It’s a depressing result when you consider that it’s slightly higher than the 21 years predicted under the latest Financy Women’s Index to close the national gender pay gap, which is based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data looking at the average full-time wage across all industries and companies.

What this also suggests is that Australia’s laws to require big companies to report on their gender pay gaps, are weak and aren’t working.

Let me explain. The requirement is for companies with over 100 employees to report their gender pay gaps to WGEA. While this is said to be mandatory under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, it looks to be voluntary at best.

There are currently 126 companies listed as not being compliant with this ruling on WGEA’s website, up significantly on previous years.

This means they are large companies not reporting on their pay gaps and increasingly doing so, leaving WGEA with little option than to push for greater voluntary reporting of government and smaller companies to help increase its dataset and to help cover its own costs.

Being on the non-compliant list, which is essentially a name and shame concept, is a slap on the wrist for the likes of companies like McDonalds, Bing Lee, EVZ Limited and Carla Zampatti.

Indeed it also doesn’t not seem to stop these companies from participating in government contracts – as it is supposed to do.

Companies that were non-compliant but received contracts included technology contractor Fredon, health company Myhomecare and defence supplier Prysmian, according to a check of government tenders by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

We need to ask companies why they are not wanting to report their gender pay gaps, and indeed as we are doing it, we should ask this current government the same question.

“The findings of last year’s WGEA dataset showed that progress on gender equality had stalled in Australian workplaces. This report reveals a worrying level of apathy and indifference among many Australian employers towards improving gender equality outcomes in their organisations,” said Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

Organisations in the education and training, health care and social assistance sectors ranked lowest on average in terms of their approach to gender equity in the workplace, and showed least improvement over the last five years;

The rate of pay audit actions has slowed, increasing by only 1.7 percentage points in the latest WGEA reporting data, while in previous years it has averaged growth of 3.7 percentage points;

Of the more positive signs,  Australia’s richest sector, the mining sector was most improved for following the best gender equity practices with an increase of 8.4 points over the last five years;

Organisations that consistently undertook pay gap audits also saw their managerial gender pay gap narrow at a faster rate than other companies, by up to 2.2 percentage points between 2017 and 2020;

And, organisations that set consistent Board targets saw the share of women on boards increase by 7.3 percentage points, lifting from 21.6% to 31.1% between 2015 and 2020.

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