Never in the past 30 years has the pay gap between men and women in Australia been so great.
I am certain that Susan Ryan, former Senator and the inaugural Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women who is responsible for the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 and the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities in Employment) Act in 1986, would never have imagined that we would still be talking about and fighting for it 30 years later. It is obvious that when there is no will, there is no way for change.
Recent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show the gender pay gap is above 18%, with women earning around 18 cents less in every dollar earned by men.
It is hardly surprising that the figures are questioned in certain quarters.
In a recent interview on Radio National’s Life Matters, economist Peter Martin spoke about the stats, arguing that the increasing pay gap is a ‘myth’, because the numbers represent only the ‘averages’. The Chief Economist from The Age claimed that the average was distorted because so many women are in ‘low skilled’ caring roles! He clearly hasn’t been doing his homework: the Fair Work Commission recently found that workers in ‘female-dominated’ industries are underpaid compared to those in comparable state/local government sectors. The bottom line: gender is a factor preventing salary increases (because women have ovaries?)
Mr Martin’s ‘logic’ suggested that the economic disparities are ‘acceptable’ because they are made up by - wait for it! - ‘psychic income’. Apparently the personal satisfaction achieved by caring is the equivalent of a higher wage! Mr Martin, I suspect, is from a different planet; and is not a favorite Martian amongst feminists ... is it really a surprise, then, that women are actively seeking alternative forms of employment?
It may surprise Mr Martian to discover that women find self-employment extremely attractive because – let’s face it – women cannot live by psychic income alone, no matter what Martin thinks.
He also said that some major corporations are shifting their performance criteria so that ‘feminine strengths’ can be appreciated. Seriously? Too little, too late; women are walking away from the corporate world in unprecedented numbers.
It is becoming clear that walking away is the only way, as the individuals elevated to help stop gender discrimination are in fact building a case for the opposite!
At a recent event in Sydney, David Thodey, Telstra’s Chief Executive, and a member of the 22 Male Champions of Change (MCC) – a group that is apparently ‘leading the change for equality’ – said that the MCC have been unable to make significant changes in retaining and promoting women because, and I quote; “We are inept”. Surely not! Indeed, David and his MCC colleagues are inept because, David, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Look no further than your own conditions of employment and that fat salary which appears not to have been offset by your ‘psychic income’.
Here’s a thought: what if all the inept MCC chaps leave their well paid jobs and get a woman to do it? I am sure the females at that level are not inept and have the ability and the courage to implement changes in the KPIs to ensure equal pay for women and to oversee that promotion for women becomes a reality this Century, bearing in mind that equal pay legislation was passed last Century.
If the corporates caught up and made changes instead of ticking the diversity box they would not only increase their bottom lines, but retain their well-educated, experienced female staff. But, no. Even though they are aware of the losses and the brain-drain, they fail to adapt. Many have yet to consider including women in their supply chains! Although many women have worked for them prior to becoming self-employed, they have been deleted from the corporate radar. These men are so unaware of the barriers facing women they fail to see win-win scenarios. Why they fail to see is beyond comprehension and simply defies logic.
Apart from the issue of unequal pay, women are seeking out self-employment because childcare is inaccessible, and for those who have more than one child, it is completely unaffordable. The ‘choices’ that women have to make between work and caring responsibilities is dictated by workplace practice and culture; it is the system that is failing us, and the system needs to be changed.
Still, thanks to technology, individuals have the ability to access global markets and education; women are breaking the glass ceiling in their own way, escaping traditional employment models and creating their own. They are becoming their own boss. ABS data shows that there are now more self-employed women than men aged between 33 to 45, trading in Australia.
Some become entrepreneurial by choice, others by necessity. Nevertheless, being their own boss allows many female business owners to pay themselves a more equitable wage: 17% of the one million self-employed women are today turning over between $500k – $5 million per year, whilst the majority of those employed in the private sector are earning around $63,600 annually.
These emerging business owners need to be noticed and embraced: these women are driving our economy. As business owners they are providing jobs, contributing to their communities and the economy, and they are part of the biggest consumer demographic in Australia, injecting around $160 billion into the economy every year! Yet, despite these truths, women are also the ones who are more likely than men to be made redundant during a recession or a company downsize. Doesn’t this sound like Peter Martin logic?
Yes, as women, we are still fighting the pay gap; pushing socially constructed boundaries and establishing ourselves as a niche in the economy. Yet reality confirms we are better educated than men, with women comprising around 60% of university graduates, and we make up the majority of the population. We are ambitious, we are asking for promotions and development – but our requests are met with different responses and reactions from our male colleagues.
Equal Pay Day will be in focus again this September and it is an important reminder that the pay gap is not a thing of the past – the challenges remain!
You have the power of the purse, so please ensure you note where you spend your money and to whom you give power. If you buy from women, instead of the corporates led by men, we may one day take gender off the agenda.