Equal pay for women is on the Skills Summit agenda. What’s the situation in Australia?

Those pushing to tighten the gender pay gap in Australia are hoping the federal government’s Jobs and Skills Summit will prompt a change in the way we think about jobs and different industries.
One of the first topics of discussion today is ‘equal opportunities and pay for women.’
When the issues paper was compiled ahead of the forum, women in full-time work were earning an average of $255.30 per week less than men.
That gap has become even more prominent, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week releasing data showing the gender pay gap (based on full-time earnings between men and women) had grown to 14.1 per cent, up 1.9 per cent from the previous year.
Increasing workforce participation of women has been suggested as one of the ways the government could try to address a worker shortage in the country.
National President of BPW Australia (the Australian Federation of Business and Professional Women) Jacqueline Graham said the gender pay gap is an “outward representation of some systemic issues around the way we value work in Australia.”
Ms Graham said research showed that the gap starts as women enter the workforce, with the average female graduate starting on a pay rate approximately four per cent lower than the average male graduate.
While more women work in lower paid industries, this is not the only driver behind women taking home less pay overall, there is a persistent gender pay gap across all industries in Australia.
“We’re not talking about the difference between two people being paid differently for work the same or comparable value because that’s unlawful, and it has been unlawful in Australia for over 40 years,” she said.
“What we’re talking about is performing the same or equivalent work or moving women into a role where the average woman earns around the same as the average man.”

BPW Australia President Jacqueline Graham.

’Feminised’ industries
Ms Graham said it’s not as simple as encouraging women to move into the mining industry so they earn more money.
“There’s a conversation around choice, that women choose to go into lower remunerated field because it suits them better, but how is our choice shaped? And how far back do we go to decide that?” she said.
Ms Graham said it was also worth considering why less value is placed on workers in certain industries, which often played important roles in society.
She hopes detail on how gender pay equity requirements will be incorporated into the Fair Work Act may be discussed at the summit.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese commented on the gender pay gap when he made this commitment earlier this week.
“A success would be a closing of the gap rather than expanding, the recent figures were going the wrong way (and) we want it to go the right way,” he said.
What can businesses do better?
Ms Graham said she’d like to see all businesses undertaking a gender pay audit.
“So that they can understand what is underlying the numbers for themselves as well as the industry grouping,” she said.
The issues paper stated “women are significantly over-represented in casual work” and Ms Graham said this was not always out of choice.
She encouraged businesses to consider formalising such work into part time contracts.
While some women choose to work part time after having children Ms Graham said a majority of roles offered on this basis were entry level and therefore lower paid and employers should be open to more flexibility in how their workforce was made up.
“Why can’t we have a part time CFO?” she said.
Ms Graham said she hoped the summit would consider structural change so women would receive any wage increases that occurred within their workplace while on parental leave, so they did not fall behind.
Executive Director of advocacy group The Parenthood Georgie Dent said countries such as Sweden and Norway which had invested heavily in early learning saw better outcomes for womenin the workforce.
A table listing gender pay gap rates in a number of countries around the world.

While the OECD lists Australia’s gender pay gap as 12.27 per cent, recent ABS figures show it has increased to 14.1 per cent. Source: SBS News

“Where countries have invested in making early learning completely affordable and really good quality that boosts women’s overall workforce participation and it reduces gender inequity,” she said.
In comparison to Australia’s gender pay gap of 14.1 per cent, both Norway and Sweden’s gender pay gaps are in the single digits.

Ms Dent hopes the summit will see the government’s planned changes to early childhood education brought forward and for a commitment to increase wages in the traditionally female industry.

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