We must overhaul how we measure the gender pay gap if we ever hope to fix it - Women's Agenda

We must overhaul how we measure the gender pay gap if we ever hope to fix it

I’ve got a problem with the gender pay gap. The most broadly cited statistics used to calculate the difference between what women and men earn, are not quite right.

As it stands, the data is skewed towards a male dominated workforce and isn’t measuring like-for-like roles. When it comes to superannuation, data is simply too infrequent.

Until this changes, debate on gender equality in relation to a woman’s financial wellbeing will continue to go around in circles and that’s a failure on the part of governments.

The biggest problem is the underlying national data we tend to rely upon to call out a gender pay gap. Be that in surfing last week, or this week’s example of the new childcare subsidy– a fundamentally skewed policy, given there are nearly three times as many men working full-time as women.

It’s not a new point, yet despite it, the Federal Government and policy makers appear to be doing little about it.

And so we have a situation where, as a nation we are increasingly calling out a gender pay gap among high profile personalities and businesses, yet maintain a reluctance to debate the data itself. The wage disparity is not being adequately addressed as a result.

If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it – a very loose paraphrase of the words of Michael Bloomberg.

Since releasing the Financy Women’s Index, a scorecard on the economic wellbeing of women, I’ve received a number of emails. I always expected some of them to heatedly debate the analysis.

But what I didn’t expect was one email from a man who cooly said that his workplace, within the electricity sector, had no gender pay gap for like-for-like roles.

Certainly I could have argued the point and notified him that the electricity sector actually has a 10.5 per cent gender pay gap –better than the national average of 15.3 per cent, but still distinctly present.

In fairness though, he was making an important point that shouldn’t be dismissed.

Like-for-like roles are not being captured in the national gender pay gap data crunch. If they were, we might have a very different story on the gender pay gap.

Earlier this year, PwC Australia announced its gender pay gap in like-for-like partnership level roles was zero percent.

But overall, the company said the gender pay gap among its 640-odd partners was 16 per cent; reflecting the fact that there are more men holding more senior partnership roles than women.

When I calculate the national gender pay gap I look at official data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time earnings– a typical approach.

An ABS sample last year conveyed 5700 employers, representing 8.5 million full-time workers of which only 3.14 million were women. WGEA’s figures were similar, capturing data from over 4 million employees and showing distinct male-dominance across the board.

The biggest problem therefore, is that we don’t have enough women working full-time – despite ratios being at a record high.

The other problem is that no weighting is being placed on the raw numbers of men versus women. And, no value is placed on the amount of unpaid full-time primary care work performed by women, and indeed a small but growing number of men.

A greater gender lens is required at the Australian Bureau of Statistics which arguably needs improved resourcing to allow it to not only fine tune the data relied on for calculating the gender pay gap, but to enable it to report more frequently.

This is particularly necessary for superannuation, whereby the savings gap between men and women is based on underlying ABS data reported every two years.

This means that by the time the media can report that women have around 30 per cent less saved in their superannuation funds compared to men, the data is so dated that it lacks relevancy.

If we are ever to make inroads into addressing and fixing the national gender pay and the superannuation savings gap, then governments have got to arm the country’s biggest statistical agencies with an improved capacity to report on gender statistics.

This means applying a gender lens and sticking to it.


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