Your Life

Why the gender pay gap should matter to everyone

- September 21, 2021 3 MIN READ
Gender pay gap - what it is and why it matters

The gender pay gap currently stands at 14.2 per cent. It has a knock-on affect for women across every stage of life.

Each year Equal Pay Day is marked on the calendar. It’s the date that represents the number of extra days a year that women need to work to earn the same average annual full time income as men.

This year it fell on 31 August, which marked the extra 61 days of work for women – calculated from the end of the financial year on 30 June. The actual date changes every year, subject to movement in the gender pay gap. 

What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap currently stands at 14.2 per cent. It’s calculated based on Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show the difference between the average weekly earnings men and women receive from full-time work.

That difference is currently $261.50 per week, which equates to $13,598 a year.

The gender pay gap is widest in Western Australia (at 21.9 per cent) , and smallest in South Australia (at 7 per cent) .

Just as it’s important to understand what the gender pay gap is, it’s also important to understand what it isn’t. The gender pay gap isn’t the same as women and men with the same skills, qualifications and experience being paid differently for doing the same job based on their gender, which is illegal in Australia. 

What factors contribute to the gender pay gap?

There are lots of reasons why, on average, women earn less than men. Most of these come back to gendered barriers affecting the earning capacity of women. These generally stem from traditional ideas about the role of women as the primary caregivers in our society.

Pink and blue jobs

One major factor that contributes to the gender pay gap is that many women work in so-called ‘pink jobs’. These are jobs like nursing, teaching, customer service and administration. Pink jobs typically pay less than male dominated ‘blue jobs’, such as construction, mining, transport and agriculture.

The COVID-19 related economic downturn has had a disproportionate affect on the kind of jobs women typically hold. This is largely the reason the gender pay gap recently increased from 13.4 per cent, to 14.2 per cent.

Gender skews in leadership roles

Men still dominate higher paying leadership positions across the workforce, according to data from the Workforce Gender Equality Agency. Just 17 per cent of leadership positions in Australia are held by women.

Even in so-called ‘pink’ industries dominated by women employees, only 38 per cent of the leaders are women.

Time out of work or part-time work

Whether it’s taking extended parental leave after having a baby, or working part-time to care for kids, a family member with a disability or ageing parents, the burden of caregiving in our society still falls disproportionately on women.

Statistics show that 94 per cent of women take primary carer paid parental leave. Compared to just 6 per cent of men. Women also make up 67 per cent of part-time employees, compared to 33 per cent of men.

Both taking a career break and working part time for a period have an impact on the skills and experience of women in the workforce. It makes them less likely to advance in their careers and reduces their earning capacity when compared to their male counterparts.

What are the wider impacts of the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap has a knock-on effect to gender disparity in retirement savings. Women working part-time, taking career breaks to care for others and working in lower paid industries are all major contributing factors behind the reason why women retire with 28 per cent less in super savings than men.

This is particularly heartbreaking when you consider that they also have a longer retirement to fund. On average, women live around four years longer than men ( Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that life expectancy at birth was 80.9 years for males and 85.0 years for females in 2017-19).

What’s can people do to close the gap?

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency outlines the following actions for individuals and employers to help close the gender pay gap.

Individuals can do things such as:

Employers can do things such as:

  • Foster a workplace culture that supports gender equality from the top-down – leadership buy-in is a must
  • Build an effective gender equality strategy for your organisation
  • Stay accountable to the journey ahead. This means setting targets, measuring impact and reporting results upward for any gender equality goal your organisation is aiming for.