The Women’s Gender Equality Agency released the latest snapshot of our workforce this week, and you could be forgiven if you scrolled past the release on social media as another sad statistic.
What it shows is that we haven’t made a lot of progress on gender equality in the last twelve months.
Taken in the context of statistics that show an increase in violence against women and their children over the last two years during COVID-19 lockdowns, it is depressing reading for women
What is shows about Australian society is that we are not the equal, progressive nation we proclaim to be. The notion of ‘a fair go’ doesn’t exist for half the population, when it comes to income.
The industries dominated by women, healthcare, education, aged care – are lower paid industries. We place less value on ‘women’s work’, but these jobs are crucial to our society, our well-being and our future.
Women still earn $26,000 a year less than men. Only 7 per cent of employers pay superannuation on either private or government paid parental leave. Men are twice as likely as women to be paid over $120,000 / year. The industries dominated by women lag running gender pay gap audits.
85 per cent of employers still pay men more than women, on average. Women are much more likely to work part-time than their male counterparts, and the older women become, the bigger the gap in pay becomes. (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2022)
Despite more fathers taking paid parental leave, the onus of childrearing stays with women in the vast majority of cases. The financial consequences of taking an extended period of time off to raise kids, or working part-time to facilitate the needs of school aged children, include the risk of much lower retirement savings. That, of course, given the rate of marriage breakdowns and the ageism in the employment market against older women, raises the high risk for poverty in senior years. (Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2022)
And it says a lot about how we think about women, as a society.
Australia needs some practical policy responses to address the growing problem of the gender pay gap, sensible policy that firstly acknowledges it will not correct itself without government intervention.
Women can be encouraged to earn higher salaries, but not without the right universal access to free childcare. In Denmark, for example, all 2-year-olds attend childcare during the day, where they are guaranteed a spot, and their parents pay no more than 25 percent of the cost.
That guaranteed spot will remain until the children are in after-school care at age 10. If their parents choose to stay home or hire a nanny, that is also subsidised by government.
Women will not be able to enter full time work with nearly the same enthusiasm as men, unless they have a workable, affordable, and available childcare options. In Iceland, one of the highest ranked countries in the world for gender pay equity, the Equal Wage Management Standard puts the onus of proving equal pay on any company of 25 employees or over. Companies must achieve a certification which guarantees pay equity, or risk daily fines from their government.
Fundamentally, Australia must understand that pay equity is about equal pay for work of equal value. It is not just about ‘equal pay for equal work’. It involves looking at how we evaluate the work undertaken by women, and how we value it compared with the work of men.
This very issue is, at present, before the Fair Work Commission in the Aged Care Wage Case. Until we fundamentally value the care provided by predominantly female workforces, including aged care, healthcare and childcare, we risk never seeing change.
Australia needs a plan for employers to make a fair consideration of the value of work, for both men and women which does not undervalue the caring, childcare, aged care, nursing, and health care industries.
Until that social shift takes place, as a society, we will not change attitudes, nor change the reality for millions of Australian women who are retiring below the poverty line.