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Pay secrets from business like Qantas, NAB outed as companies forced to reveal controversial data

Qantas, NAB, Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank have had to reveal their gender pay gaps for the first time ever.

The gender pay gap in huge Australian companies from Qantas to NAB has been exposed as the government has revealed the "complex problem" is costing our economy $51.8 billion a year.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has published the pay gap between men and women for private sector companies with 100 or more employees, taking the data a step further from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) base salaries for full-time workers to total remuneration including overtime, bonuses and superannuation for all staff, including part time and casual. This is the first time you will be able to look up specific companies' disclosures and will mean the leaders of those businesses will need to be accountable for their approach.

The report found 90 per cent or more employers in the mining, electricity, water and waste services and financial and insurance services industries have a gender pay gap favouring men. The national average is 21.7 per cent, equivalent to women earning $26,393 less than men annually.

Pay gap represented by to figurines standing on stacks of coins, one larger than the other.
Pay gaps for specific companies will be revealed in an Australian-first. (Getty)

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Revealing what you earn is a controversial topic for many Australians, but a Yahoo Finance poll of more than 3,000 readers found 58 per cent thought more people should speak about their pay so they could get a “fair” go. But will this revelation cause more angst than good? Experts are divided.

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Here’s what you need to know about today's publication.

What's in the report?

More than 80 per cent of those employers in mining, electricity, water and waste services and financial and insurance services have a gap above 9.1 per cent.

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin have a median pay gap of 37 per cent, 43.7 per cent and 41.7 per cent respectively. There was also a high pay gap in the banking industry in favour of men, with NAB reporting an 18.8 per cent gap, Westpac recorded 28.5 per cent and Commonwealth Bank was at 29.9 per cent.

Qantas Group chief people officer Catherine Walsh said the data didn't mean women were paid less than men to do the same jobs, but highlighted how there is significant under-representation of women in more highly paid roles such as pilots and engineers.

There is also a link between more women in leadership roles and lower pay discrepancies, while employers with gender balance in management roles were 50 per cent more likely to have a neutral pay gap.

WGEA chief executive Mary Wooldridge said the data release, made possible by a legislative reform passed in 2023, was a significant step forward in understanding gender equality in Australian workplaces.

Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher, said the "persistent and complex problem" was costing Australia billions every year, but was encouraged this historic step toward transparency was a postive one.

"By shining a light on gender pay gaps at an employer level, we are arming individuals and organisations with the evidence they need to take meaningful action to accelerate closing the gender pay gap in Australian workplaces," she said.

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What new pay details are being published and why does it matter?

The WGEA's report highlights the median pay gap, and the gender composition in higher and lower paid roles within each listed company. This means you will be able to look on the website and see how an organisation, or one you’re thinking of joining, stacks up against others and how you sit on a scale within your industry.

Previously, a summary was posted which did not specify individual employers and some have claimed the “naming and shaming” tactic could have negative impacts in the workplace, fuelling animosity between colleagues. Others have said you can’t deal with a problem if you don’t name and quantify it, adding that reporting could help foster real change to address the gap.

The WGEA said the move is “designed to encourage employers to deploy and drive workplace policies, practices and environments that support gender equality, creating meaningful shifts in Australian working life”.

The government has expressed its commitment to closing the pay gap and Australians are passionate as well. New research from HiBob finding 61 per cent of female employees would consider leaving their job if there was a difference between how men and women were paid. In a telling statistic, a third said they didn’t think their organisation would prioritise the gender pay gap, and 40 per cent thought men were promoted quicker than men, compared to 18 per cent of males who held that view.

Their survey also revealed 83 per cent of women want companies to be doing annual pay equality audits to ensure the gap isn’t widened or becomes stagnated.

So will my pay be published?

No. There’s not a breakdown of every role, or person in the data set. It’s more a scale of where men and women sit in either the upper, upper middle, lower middle or lower ends of the scale, and how that compares to the gendered makeup of the total workforce.

The WGEA acknowledged the report “may not provide a complete picture of an organisation’s commitment” to closing the pay gap, given internal and external factors that influence it. This is why employers will be able to list a statement with the disclosure.

Director of recruitment agency Robert Half, Nicole Gorton, told Yahoo Finance the change in reporting should help create far more “transparent conversations” about pay, and whether it is “fair”.

The latest information on the gender pay gap
The latest information on the gender pay gap (WGEA)

“It's an opportunity for companies but it's also an opportunity for employees to have a greater level of understanding of where they're at to that today, how they fare internally to their peer group but also externally to the marketplace and being able to use it as a tool to what do I need to do to get to the next level?” she said.

Gorton warned those reading in that “context is critical” when assessing how your pay sits.

"There are other factors outside remuneration in isolation that impact pay, like skills and experience, qualifications, geography, cost of living differences and time in seat,” she said.

“That's the context that gives the substance, which allows for communication around these things…what makes me nervous is that people just look at it as the salary level or difference without truly understanding other nuances.”

What's the government's response?

Minister for Women, Senator Katy Gallagher, said this is a "pivotal" moment for gender equality in Australia.

“The release of employer gender pay gaps marks a historic step towards transparency and accountability in addressing gender inequality,” she said.

“The gender pay gap is a persistent and complex problem that costs the Australian economy $51.8 billion every year.

“Transparency and accountability are critical for driving change. By shining a light on gender pay gaps at an employer level, we are arming individuals and organisations with the evidence they need to take meaningful action to accelerate closing the gender pay gap in Australian workplaces.”

Is greater pay transparency a good thing?

Pay is a delicate conversation in many offices and it has been taboo for decades to discuss how much you earn; even amongst friends it can be awkward to explain your salary. It seems like the tide is slowly changing, however not everyone agrees on the topic.

Robert Half Australia interviewed 500 hiring managers and 1,000 office workers to see what their thoughts are on breaking this long-standing taboo and found 73 per cent of employers thought more regulation about transparency was long overdue.

An overwhelming majority (84 per cent) said greater pay transparency would improve corporate culture and 65 per cent agreed it would make salary negotiations easier.

But close to half (47 per cent) of the workers who completed the survey said this could create friction in the office.

Interestingly, 36 per cent of Gen X workers and 30 per cent of Millennials reckon higher transparency would negatively impact workplace culture. A little more than a quarter of Gen Z workers and 24 per cent of Baby Boomers thought the same.

Not all employers are on board with the proposal, as more than a third of are concerned salary transparency could lead to losing employees.

Professor Alan Duncan, the Director of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre said this new approach could be a turning point for gender equality.

“Gender pay gaps in Australia have been improving over time, but only gradually, and there remain significant differences between the best and worst performing organisations and industry sectors when it comes to gender pay equity," Duncan said.

"Pay audits, accountability and greater representation of women in leadership and on boards have all been shown to improve gender equity outcomes within Australian organisations. The publication of organisational gender pay gaps offers great potential to accelerate the pace of change and will ultimately add to women’s economic equality in the workplace.”

The ABS said last week the pay gap is 12 per cent for full-time workers, meaning for every dollar on average men earned, women earned 88 cents. That works out to be $238 less than men each week. While 12 per cent sounds fairly high, it’s the “lowest” gender pay gap on record and down from 13 per cent in May 2023.

The WGEA said the pay gap is 21.7 per cent as their reading is taken from a different data set that reviews total renumeration of all staff, including things like overtime and bonuses.

With AAP

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