Think the gender pay gap is just about equal pay? Think again.

Think the gender pay gap is just about equal pay? Think again.

gender pay gap

This year in Australia, Equal Pay Day will be ‘celebrated’ on August 31, representing the additional 61 days that women will have to work from the end of the financial year to earn the same as men; a number that has increased since the same period in 2020.

That’s right: the gender pay gap in Australia has gotten worse.

According to the latest figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), Australia’s gender pay gap has widened over the past 12 months to 14.2%, an increase of 0.8%, and now equates to $261.50 less per week in women’s average full-time earnings compared to men.

This comes hot on the heels of countless reports highlighting the already heavily gendered impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on the lives of women, who are now experiencing the effects of an economic stimulus plan aimed at protecting ‘jobs for the boys’.

All of this is to say that, after a period of economic instability and uncertainty for women, a reverse in the progress that had been made (and fought for) on the pay gap feels like the last straw.

While it can be easy to think of the gender pay gap as simply the difference between the average full-time earnings of men and women, in reality, it represents so much more than that. And it’s about time that conversation was front and centre.

There are ‘gaps within the gap’ that are being ignored

While a widening gender pay gap is certainly bad news for women in Australia, these latest figures from the WGEA don’t tell us the whole story. And, the whole story is probably a lot worse.

The WGEA does a great job and they are an important voice. However, by only reporting averages and not disaggregating data in ways other than gender, we cannot fully understand or hope to ‘fix’ the pay inequities that exist at the intersection of racialised, marginalised and minoritised identities.

As a white, hetero, cisgendered, able-bodied woman, I do not wish, nor am I qualified, to speak on behalf of the communities and groups of women I refer to here. But, too often, the point that these statistics represent #notallwomen is seen as a footnote or an addendum to the central thesis that current reporting on the gender pay gap is inadequate.

These ‘gaps within the gap’ are the conversation, and we need the research to back it up, especially in Australia.

Australia’s reporting on the gender pay gap is still far behind

In the US, statistics on the gender pay gap paint a far more nuanced picture of the reality for women, enabling us to see just how inadequate our statistics are in identifying how deeply entrenched and wide-ranging the problem still is.

Even merely separating and acknowledging that Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, Native American Women’s Pay Day and Latina Women’s Equal Pay Day fall on different days in the US, serves to highlight the ‘gaps within the gap’ and reminds us of where we should be focusing more of our attention.

In Australia, the gender pay gap experienced by women of colour, women from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, women with disabilities, and by First Nations women would undoubtedly be higher than the 14.2% average. Others have spoken powerfully about the myriad of challenges already experienced by women of colour in the workplace. And, let us not forget that First Nations women are also dealing with a legacy of oppression and discrimination and intergenerational poverty caused by ‘stolen’ wages.

People have been calling out this lack of intersectional data on the pay gap and the fact that it hides the reality for the majority of women and marginalised peoples in this country for a long time, so what is the delay in actually collecting and publishing more disaggregated data? Surely this must be a priority if we want to close the gap(s) in our lifetimes.

The compounding effect of a lifetime falling through the gaps

If you needed further proof that the pay gap is about far more than just women’s pay, it’s time we had a little talk about compound interest.

Remember that $261.50 per week that women are losing out on (on average)? On its own, that equates to an extra $1,133 per month, or $13,598 across a whole year. Now, I’m not sure if you do, but I certainly know a few women who’d quite like an extra 13 grand or so in their back pocket each year.

While these numbers alone are staggering, particularly when you add up those losses over an entire career, again, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. When we talk about some of the lifetime effects of the pay gap, it is a penalty that compounds, or ‘grows’ over a lifetime.

For example, let’s say a woman were to invest those ‘lost earnings’ in the financial markets beginning with $1, and then contribute that $1,133 per month every month at an average return of 7%. After 20 years, she can expect to have an investment portfolio worth approximately $593,656. Yes, over half a million dollars.

But wait, there’s even more.

The annual growth of that investment alone could then provide an income stream of approximately $41,555 (before tax), every year. Yes, every year. That means, she could effectively use that income stream to live semi-comfortably off, without eating into the almost $600K balance. And if she were to use that ‘extra’ money to contribute to a mortgage or contribute to her superannuation – you can only imagine.

In so many ways, women are already on the backfoot, and we really don’t have any time (or compound interest) to waste.

The gender pay gap equates to a ‘power’ gap

In the capitalist, patriarchal and racist colonial systems we exist in, having access to money doesn’t just make you ‘wealthy’, it makes you powerful. And this equates to very real consequences in terms of the power (or lack thereof) that women have over their own lives.

From Aboriginal women and mothers imprisoned because of fines they cannot afford to pay (no longer thanks to Deb Kilroy’s tireless work), to women who don’t report sexual harassment and assualt in the workplace for fear of retaliation in the form of termination, demotion, or lost hours, or women who stay in violent or financially abusive relationships because they cannot afford not to – women are paying the price of the pay gap every way they turn.

While, of course, closing the gender pay gap isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ that will solve or alleviate these situations instantly or entirely. However, closing the pay gap(s) would help to ensure that women no longer have less money, and therefore power – over their own choices, freedoms, safety, and lives.

As the saying goes, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed and if we aren’t including the lived realities of all women in our gender pay gap data, then we are excluding them from the solution.

This Equal Pay Day, may we no longer task women themselves with the labour of closing the gender pay gap by saying that they ‘choose lower paying careers’ or that their ‘imposter syndrome is holding them back’. Instead, we need to make it a priority to identify and measure the ‘gaps within the gap’, see the pay gap for what it is – about far more than just pay – and keep the pressure on governments and employers to close the pay gap once and for all women.

Chandel Brandimarti is the Co-Creator of Ladies Talk Money, a free education and financial literacy platform that tackles the complex relationship between women, their finances and the barriers keeping them from achieving true financial equality. Ladies Talk Money is currently conducting a survey to assess how people are feeling about the gender pay gap. Have your say here ahead of their conversation on ‘Minding the (Pay) Gap’.

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