Yes, we need to fix the gender pay gap but not at the expense of flexibility

Yes, we need to fix the gender pay gap but not at the expense of flexibility

gender pay gap

Data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has increased the spotlight on the continuing gender pay gap in Australia. A key finding is that many women work less than full time hours, which is impacting pay equity.

As Women’s Agenda called out, ‘less than 50 percent of women are employed full-time’. This fact, combined with 90% of manager roles requiring fulltime work, is leading to what WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge calls a ‘disconnect’ between women’s presence in the workforce and our capacity to work at these higher levels.

This is unwelcome confirmation that the battle for gender equity continues. But we need to be careful about what lesson we take from it.

This should not be a contest between pay equity and flexibility. Remember, women are already shouldering more than our fair share of unpaid work as well as participating in the paid workforce. Women should not have to give up the strides we have made towards greater flexibility in paid work, to achieve pay parity or promotion to senior roles.

The challenge is not for women to do more paid hours to earn the same as men. We need to enable flexibility without penalising women’s participation in paid work. We need the structures of work to value women’s contribution at all levels. This means those structures of work might need to change.  

My own organisation has a 100% female workforce, in part reflecting the gendered workforce dynamics of the health and legal assistance sectors that we work with. We draw on a diverse set of skills, capabilities and experience levels in our team. We also offer a high degree of flexibility, made explicit throughout our recruitment processes and in our policies managing workload and expectations as well as our team culture.

Only two out of our 14 staff work full time. We have part time roles at Director level, in management positions and right across our team. Alongside our purpose, this commitment to flexibility has seen us attract a well-qualified and experienced talent pool when we recruit, enabling us to build a high performing team.

One of WGEA’s recommendations is for employers to rethink norms around management roles and offer inclusive, flexible working arrangements at all levels. Workplace flexibility is increasingly important. This was already the case prior to the pandemic and has become even more so. We shouldn’t lose sight of this or sacrifice it for outdated notions about work.

On the contrary, we need to make sure that senior and higher paid roles keep up with the changing dynamics of work and workforce. Not only will this help us tackle the gender pay gap, it will also ensure more diverse and experienced talent pools to recruit from.

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