For some hard-working women, the gender pay gap may never close

‘A heartbreaking reality’: For some hard-working women, the gender pay gap may never close

According to ABC’s political reporter Andrew Probyn, Scott Morrison has only just been made aware of the gender pay gap.

The report was made over the weekend, with Probyn alluding to the PM’s surprise upon learning that pay equality in Australian workplaces is still, irrefutably, decades away.

Of course, for all those who have fervently campaigned on this issue for decades (including yours truly), the news of the PM’s revelation feels infuriating. And while the PM’s office yesterday refuted this account, it’s hard to imagine Probyn pulling such a claim from thin air.

Indeed, if the PM was only just learning about the gender pay gap (which currently sits at 13.4%) it would explain much about why new research from Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), Gender Equity Insights 2021: Making It a Priority, showed that it will take more than a quarter of a century to reach pay equality in Australia.

A report, that sadly got lost in the tsunami of recent gender related news last month.

But given the PM’s alleged new interest in women’s issues, and his newly appointed phalanx of lady ministers — forgive me, a cabinet level “task force” — dedicated to all things gender equality, I think it’s worth re-revisiting.

The Prime Minister and Senator Jane Hume– who’s been specifically designated to the issue of women’s economic security– should be aware of one particular aspect of that report.

Yes, the top-line figure regarding the slow rate of overall change was alarming, but the truly shocking and heartbreaking insight was somewhat buried: women in some female dominated and traditionally undervalued industries, such as community and personal services, may never reach income parity with their male colleagues.

That’s right. The report conceded that for some women, the gender pay gap may never close.

Report author and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre Deputy Director Associate Professor Rebecca Cassells said that if the average annual rate of change continued, the gender pay gap among full-time executives would be eliminated within 10 years, and for senior managers in less than 15 years.

For some women things are looking comparatively good.

“But for workers in non-management roles, it could take even longer,” cautioned Professor Cassells. “And some occupations may not see any change at all in their gender pay gap.”

The pandemic has shone a light on the absolutely essential nature of women’s work in traditionally undervalued professions, including “community and personal services”– let’s just call them the caring professions. Many women working in those sectors now proudly say they are “Essential AF” … a play on the “Feminist AF” T-shirt slogan. (And no, I will not hide my delight that this somewhat beige sounding, but vitally important, feminist issue now has a T-shirt worthy slogan.)

It would be truly shameful if we accepted that we will never address the appalling undervaluing of their work — and never deliver them equal pay. 

We know that women’s economic security is undermined by a variety of factors, including the disproportionate amount of time they spend on unpaid work – but also the undervaluing of their traditionally female dominated paid care work.

And we know that women retire with, on average, half the super of men and women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing cohort of the homeless population. So, for too many hard-working women, a lifetime spent caring — either paid or unpaid — is rewarded with poverty and homelessness in old age. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation.

I would put this challenge to our newly appointed Minister for Women’s Economic Security, Jane Hume, who has said that addressing the gender pay gap is one of her priorities: are you going to let that stand?

And I would say this to the chief executive and women on boards type organisations, whose dominant and effective advocacy on their own behalf has clearly paid off: it’s time to stop talking about yourselves and start showing some solidarity with women in low-paid, female dominated industries.

It’s long past time to address this aspect of the stubborn gender pay gap. Tackling this injustice is #EssentialAF.

Kristine Ziwica is a regular contributor. She tweets @KZiwica

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