Australia has finished last in a global ranking of gender pay gaps, with researchers blasting policymakers and business leaders for their failure to change the status quo.
The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership report ranked six countries across 11 pay indicators, with Australia and the UK both scoring bottom points of 4 out of 11.
Spain took out the top spot with a score of 8.5 out of 11, followed by France with 8 while South Africa scored 5.5 and Sweden scored 5.
Though Australia had once been a pioneering country for gender equality, the reverse is now true, said researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and King’s College London.
“After nearly four decades of gender equality reporting in Australia, many organisations have gender equality policies in place, but evidence suggests that many policies are ineffective,” the report reads.
It said Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 has been essential in equipping advocates with evidence of gender inequality. However, the information isn't enough to deliver real change without mandates for positive action.
It noted that while gender pay statistics are reported to the Government and policymakers, individual employees don’t generally have access to the data.
And while employers that fail to comply with gender pay reporting rules can be excluded from government support, this has not always been enforced.
Australia’s inaction is in stark contrast to countries like France, where non-compliance can trigger penalties of up to 1 per cent of turnover, as well as Spain, where penalties can be more than €180,000 (AU$288,000).
Pre-Federation South Australia was one of the first governments in the world to grant women the right to vote and to stand for parliament, while Australia’s decision to grant equal pay in 1972 also made it a world leader in gender equality.
In 2021, however, women in Australia have to work an extra 61 days a year to earn the same amount as their male counterparts, due to a 14.2 per cent pay gap among full-time employees.
The pay gap also has consequences well into retirement, with women accruing around 30 per cent less in superannuation by the time they retire due to lower overall pay and a national paid parental leave scheme that doesn’t include super.
Australia operating on ‘power saver mode’
A companion report by the ANU found that Australia has the means to enact significant change, describing the current pay gap reporting system as “thorough, detailed and functioning”.
“The process is there. But if the legislation is a machine, it is running on power saver mode,” said co-author of the ANU paper Dr Miriam Glennie.
“By pulling a small number of levers, Australia has a chance to ramp up progress on reducing the pay gap in the short to medium term.”
The ANU researchers suggested the publication of individual organisations’ gender pay gaps as a potential lever.
Additionally, it called for the sanctions included in the Workplace Gender Equality Act to actually be used against businesses that fail to meet new minimum standards.
“We believe these changes would have a significant impact on closing the gap in the short to medium term,” co-author Dr Anna von Reibnitz said.
“Without action, we remain a country that is stuck in low power mode, while others outpace us.”
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