Pay gap at 18.2%. How did we get here? | Women's Agenda

Pay gap at 18.2%. How did we get here?

We’re supposed to be making progress when it comes to women’s workplace participation, representation and equal pay.

But as the latest news from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows, we’re actually going backwards – at least when it comes to the measure of equal pay.

Australia’s gender pay gap has blown out to a massive 18.2%, up from 17.5% this time last year, and now at its highest point in twenty years.

That means men working full-time are earning an average $15,000 more than their female counterparts, based on the ABS figures. It means women have to work an extra 66 days a year in order to make up the difference. It’s also a serious step backwards from ten years ago, when the pay gap was reported as being 14.9% in November 2004.

The gender pay gap has serious implications for women now and in the future. It contributes to the fact women have less financial freedom than men, are more likely to live in poverty and retire with less superannuation. The significant amount of time and money women are spending on education is not offering anything like a fair return on investment.

So what’s going on?

The problem cannot be blamed on women – it’s not a matter of women not asking for what they’re worth or not negotiating fair pay.  

And while it’s clear that heavily male dominated industries that are currently paying some large salaries must be contributing in some way, even women in these industries are paid significantly less than the men.  Women working in construction are paid 18.8% less than men, while those in mining are taking home 23.8% less than their male colleagues.

The pay gap is actually at its worst in the female dominated healthcare and social services sector (30.7%), followed by the financial and insurance services (30%).

Meanwhile, it’s not a problem that can be solely attributed to women taking career breaks, working flexibly for a period and/or not reaching leadership positions.

Indeed, it’s telling that even upon graduating women are starting out on an average 9.4% less than men, according to data from Graduate Careers Australia.  The pay gap exists as soon as women step foot in the workforce, and merely gets larger as they progress through the ranks – if they can progress at all. Much of it is due to outright discrimination.  

Recently, Oxfam reported that at the current rate of change, women won’t achieve equal pay for another 75 years. But the reality is that according to Australia’s rate of change, with the gap widening, men will actually be earning twice that of women in a couple of decades.

It clearly can’t continue. Equal pay must firmly be on the government’s agenda and considered through all areas of its policy reform. It must also be considered at the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane.

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