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Enough is enough: It's 2024, why are Aussie women still being paid less than men?

Figures show women are paid 12 per cent less than men - the lowest gap on record. But this is still not good enough, writes Rebecca Franks.

The battle of the sexes has been raging since the dawn of time, but recent figures have reignited the flames and thrown up the age-old question: why are women still paid significantly less than men?

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week showed Aussie women were paid 12 per cent less than men, which was down from 13 per cent in 2023 and the lowest gender pay gap “on record”.

While progress is being made, this doesn’t change the fact that, on average, the total weekly income of Aussie men in full-time jobs is $2,076 a week, while their female full-time colleagues are paid just $1,766.

Close-up of Rebecca Franks talking about the gender pay gap.
Rebecca says it's time to close the gender pay gap once and for all. (Supplied)

During the pandemic, as lockdown closed offices and schools across the country, the pressure women were placed under was even greater while the gender gap widened further, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

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As a mum with two primary-aged children – one who had just started kindy – the mental load of suddenly working full-time while home-schooling and maintaining my own sanity was an unbelievably tough challenge to take on.

And I was not alone. Millions of Aussie women bore the brunt of extra childcare responsibilities and more housework, while adapting to working from home and being paid less than their male colleagues to do it.

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According to the WEF data from 2023, lockdowns set gender parity back three decades – meaning it will now take 131 years to close the global gender gap based on its current rate of progress.

While we might think we’re doing OK compared to other countries, our nation ranks at number 26 on the global list - just behind African nation Mozambique - having closed the gender gap by 77.8 per cent.

However, this is happy news compared to 2021 when Australia was ranked 50 out of 156 countries for gender parity, trailing behind Namibia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Ecuador and El Salvador.

Our high-achieving neighbours, New Zealand, have been showing the world how it’s done for years. Last year's data showed the Kiwis had closed the gap by 85.6 per cent and ranked fourth on the list, while Iceland was number one with 91.2 per cent gender parity.

Why are Aussie women still so far behind in 2024?

It seems incredulous – to at least half the population, anyway – that we’re still having this same, tired gender pay gap debate in 2024, and yet here we are.

Workplaces in Australia are teeming with women, we’re part of a handful of countries that elected a female prime minister and yet, it’s still going to take more than a century for us to reach gender parity.

A man and a woman sit chatting in a workplace.
It will take 131 years to close the global gender gap, according to data from the World Economic Forum. (Source: Getty)

Most of us would have heard of the 'glass ceiling' – the invisible barrier women hit when climbing the corporate ladder. Some make it through, while others don’t and it’s never really clear why. It can cause quite a lot of anxiety when you wonder why it's happened.

An uneasy mind can start to wonder if your bosses disliked the shade of lipstick you wore to the office once or maybe you didn’t smile enough in the lift with your managing director? How did the cocky 20-something bloke with a decade less of industry experience beat you to that promotion despite your proven track record and years of company loyalty?

Truth is, in most cases, you'll never know. Not unless you’re lucky enough to overhear the chatter in the 'boys club'. Even when you do score a top job, there’s sometimes a cruel whisper campaign behind your back. "Who did she sleep with to get that job?!" colleagues may unkindly joke.

These are issues men will never have to deal with, and nor should they. But, by the same token, neither should women, especially when statistics show they’re paid far less than their male colleagues over their career trajectory and potentially less for the "plum job" they managed to achieve.

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Paid maternity leave doesn't justify lower wages

Some will argue women earn less because they take time out of their careers to have and care for children. This is true and it’s every woman’s choice to do what best suits her family situation. And yes, some women are lucky enough to receive paid maternity leave in addition to the federal government’s scheme – so that’s extra income right there.

However, this minor blip in a woman’s career certainly doesn’t justify the fact females are, on average, paid a whopping 12 per cent less than men.

The fact is women – regardless of whether they have children or intend to – face extra hurdles and barriers in the workplace and spend their lives playing 'catch up' when it comes to salaries. Partly, this comes down to biology. Women, unlike men, are not encouraged or taught how to be tough negotiators.

While both genders can find mentors who will pass on business strategies or secrets to getting ahead, men are, in general, more likely to confidently march into their boss's office to ask for a pay rise. This could be part of the reason their salaries are higher, on average.

Under new federal government rules, from today, companies with 100 or more employees will be forced to publicly reveal the gender pay gap and workers will be able to see – in black and white – the full scale of what we’re dealing with.

It’s about time this happened. It’s also time to close the gender gap once and for all, and let’s not take a century to do it.

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