Words by Vanessa La Delfa.
The gender pay gap has a myriad of causes and like any curious feminist, I began to consider my own experience in the workforce – wondering how they measured up in general. As I burrowed deeper into an internet rabbit hole, I became deeply concerned by the lack of reliable pay gap information. I was coming up with more questions than answers, perhaps the most ‘meta’ being: ‘is a lack of transparent pay gap data causing the pay gap itself?' The resulting piece unpacks four pivotal questions, which I believe every Australian should ask – and keep asking – until they’re part of the problem no more.
Why are high income earners always men?
If you were asked to name 3 female CEOs that have made it to the top 10 Australian CEOs in the past 2 years could you? The ones listed – publicly?
Why can’t we even name 3 female CEOs that sit amongst the highest earnings each year? I would assume this is because men own more businesses in Australia than women. The Australian government employment statistics (1) state that in 2019, 1.3million (that is a huge 65%) of businesses were male-owned, compared to 714,000 businesses owned by women. The silver lining? Female employment was seen to have grown by 2.4% in the last 12 months. It’s projected to grow again in the next 5 years by 8%.
In retrospect of those statistics, as women, we need to continue looking at where we make a win.
Why do we punish our female leaders?
When Julia Gillard came into the ‘larger’ spotlight as Prime Minister in 2010, she had done numerous interviews and one in particular, on an ABC ‘Q&A’ discussing her recent book ‘Women and Leadership’, she touches on the bemusing idea on how she could have handled the media’s cry on the second day after winning the election. They didn’t discuss this historical event in which a woman had come into power, breaking down boundaries and setting a path of influence for younger aspiring female leaders. Rather, it was about what Julia was wearing.
This leaves me (and I’m sure many others) wondering, could this not have been handled better? Should Australian journalists not have highlighted the historic event unfolding before us, without questioning or commenting on her clothes? Is this because the majority of media businesses in Australia are run by men? Are we not allowed to show support for any woman in power? At the top? At ALL? It would have had a very different impact on the younger female generations that were watching this unfold but as far as the media was concerned when this happened... women should simply never wear a suit.
Luckily, for ALL Australian women, young and old, Julia Gillard has stayed in our sights, inspiring us to fight for what we want, to continue climbing the employment ladder and to never give up on our path to leadership, no matter who gets in our way.
That said, the gender gap is still in our way.
Why is equality still stigmatised?
The gender pay gap is a ‘hard’ topic to tackle, for anyone. For male employers, it could be quite easy to overlook the gap between what they choose to pay their male staff against what they pay their female staff. It could be easy for them to say they are in support of gender equality in the workplace, or that their office mainly employs women, but are their earnings the same? How many chances is a woman given in her workplace when making a mistake, compared to a man? How many feel comfortable asking for a pay rise if their boss is male? How many earn what they’re worth? Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone and I commend the many male-owned businesses that do practise gender equality.
Where is the goddamn data?
The WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) submits statistics yearly on the Gender Pay Gap. While this information is extremely important and informative for women and men across the board, it’s overly broad. There would be, without a doubt, a pay gap between men and women in all industries. But why are so many careers lumped into categories that in theory, they don’t belong? There could (and would) be a gap between women of different nationalities again, but could they argue racial discrimination rather than gender discrimination? Probably both. Either way, the research is hard to find until you DIG IT UP. That's if you can find it.
So where is this information? How can we wholeheartedly go into battle for gender equality when there is inequality within the research that has not been addressed?
Which brings us back to our 5.9 million employed Australian women, of which only 12.1% (1) own their own business. How many of those women are earning more than men? How many are in a position that could say they have every right to be earning more? How many have been told they need to prove their worth? And of these women, how many are LGBTQI+, CALD or living with a disability?
There are gaps within the pay gap that need to be addressed. Without a doubt, there are people working very hard to source these statistics, but where they all are is yet to be seen.
And what of diversity? Sydney University's 2018 research ‘Women and the future of work project’ (2) dived into the diversity of women in Australian workplaces. Only 5% of those surveyed identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, so how does this level out as an even playing field? How do we make sure the statics are not coming out racially biased, when gender equality is equality for ALL women? While the gap is still at a large, the onus is on us. We need to inspire and empower younger generations of women. To bridge the pay gap. To say with confidence that working hard pays off equally for everyone. To do this, we need to make it easier to source out this information – ALL the information.