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The corporate act dragging gender equality back

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, Financy
·Contributor
·3-min read
Working, Equality, Wages, Women, Paying
Working, Equality, Wages, Women, Paying

The gender pay gap might be closing, but a growing list of disinterested Australian companies and industries are threatening to derail progress on equality.

New research by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, which looks at nearly 5,000 companies shows the full-time wage disparity fell to 20.1 per cent from 24.7 per cent in the last seven years. 

At this pace, it’s likely to take another 26 years for women to earn the same as men.

The result is worse than the 21 years predicted by the Financy Women's Index in March to close the national gender pay gap, which currently stands at 13.4 per cent, down from 14 per cent in May 2020 based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

It’s also hugely depressing when you consider that here we have many companies who are willing to report to WGEA their gender pay gap information, while others are becoming more reluctant to do so.

The report found that one of the biggest drags on closing the gender pay gap has been a decline in companies conducting a pay analysis.

The pace of progress in companies conducting a so-called “pay audit” slowed to 1.7 percentage points compared to an average of 3.7 percentage points in previous years.

By contrast, 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, the report found.

“The businesses who pay close attention to their own data, and who consistently scrutinise and apply their workplace policies, are the ones that have seen the most effective gender equality outcomes,” said Libby Lyons, outgoing Director of WGEA.

“However, while some organisations have embraced change, in others we are witnessing, as the report identifies, ‘gender apathy’. This ‘gender apathy’ has acted to slow the overall pace of change.”

The report also found that the country’s two biggest employers of women by sector, Healthcare and Education and Training ranked as the worst performers on closing the gender pay gap.

The report notes that: “Organisations that are female dominated are less likely to pay close and consistent attention to gender equality within their workplace. This suggests a significant level of complacency and inaction exists within sectors that have a higher concentration of women.”

The male-dominated mining sector was the most improved for following the best gender equity practices with an increase of 8.4 points over the last five years.

Finance and insurance and utilities were also among most likely to follow the best gender equality practices.

It is a requirement for private sector 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, the penalty for not complying looks nothing more than a polite name and shame, and a warning against winning government contracts. Reporting is only voluntary for the public sector.

There are currently 126 companies, including big brand names McDonalds, Bing Lee and Carla Zampatti, listed as not being compliant on WGEA's website, up significantly on previous years.

According to Fairfax Media, companies that were also recently non-compliant but received government contracts included technology contractor Fredon, health company Myhomecare and defence supplier Prysmian.

We need to ask companies why they are not wanting to report their gender pay gap information? Is it that the compliance process is becoming too arduous or is their performance an embarrassment?

Indeed while we are at it, we should ask this current government the same question.

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