Women have been fighting to be paid the same wages as men since the early 1900s. But it wasn’t until 1972 that the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission granted women equal pay for work of equal value. And still, the average income of Australian and New Zealand women is less than men.
Female-dominated industries still attract lower wages and significant barriers still prevent women from finding their place in traditionally male-dominated roles.
Does meaningful change always have to take decades? And are we really prepared for it to take that long, given the cost not only to individuals but to families, communities, businesses, and society as a whole?
The answer should be a resounding “no”.
So how can we affect the pace of change? Whether you’re a leader or individual contributor — you can become an equal pay advocate. Here are five things to remember as you champion equal pay:
1. Recognise that the gender pay gap requires urgent action
A recent WEF report revealed it will take 135.6 years to reach global gender parity at the current rate. The gender pay gap in Australia is 14.1% which means, on average, Australian women make 87 cents for every $1 men make. That works out to $253.50 less than men every week as a result of gender. In New Zealand, the gender pay gap sits at 9.2%.
And none of these figures takes into account the further disadvantage experienced by Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women, Māori or Pacific women, or women who experience other forms of disadvantage.
These are sobering statistics and the time for change is now.
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2. You don’t need to be the CEO — we all have a voice
While it is helpful to have support from the top, we all have the voice and power to create change around us. In Australia, we’ve seen the impact of courageous women like the 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, who has spoken vividly and frankly about the choices individuals and businesses can make to create a better, more just, and diverse future.
You also do not need to identify as a woman or be underrepresented to speak up. As Pip Marlow, CEO of Salesforce ANZ and ASEAN has shared, male leaders, for example, play a critical role in breaking biases by being role models to other men and actively cultivating workplaces that drive an equal playing field.
3. Gender inequality is experienced differently by women from diverse backgrounds
It’s important we address issues of intersectionality when talking about equal pay. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, Māori and Pacific women, and other women from diverse backgrounds experience added layers of challenge and discrimination in the workplace. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for example, face barriers to education and consistently earn lower average incomes than non-Indigenous Australians. And women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds face barriers around formal recognition of overseas qualifications and the need for childcare support. As a result, migrant and refugee women are more likely to work in low income, low skill, insecure jobs.
When thinking about an audit, be sure to address these issues wherever possible for a more accurate reading of the gender pay gap and other inequalities in your business.
4. Don’t blame or solely put the burden on women
Too often the dialogue of equal pay turns into a conversation about how women can better negotiate their compensation packages — “negotiate more like a man.” However, the impact of these conversations is that it puts the burden of addressing the pay gap on women who are currently underrepresented in business leadership and therefore, typically do not have as much power or privilege. Rather, we need to focus on the systems and processes in place to ensure fairness and equity. At Salesforce, we’ve adopted a practice that’s now law in some U.S. states which prevents employers asking about someone’s salary history. This helps to build fairness into the hiring process.
In Australia, a bill has recently passed which bans secrecy clauses and allows employees to disclose their remuneration details. This is an important change given pay secrecy clauses can lead to a reduction in employee bargaining power and have shown to significantly exacerbate the gender pay gap. International studies show a decline in the gender pay gap as a result of legislation that promotes pay transparency.
5. Equal pay is everyone’s responsibility
We all have a role to play in reaching pay parity for all. We can’t sit back with our feet up and hope for change — let’s be the change. Here are your final steps to being an equal pay advocate:
- Learn the facts: For example, although studies have shown a correlation between gender diversity and business outcomes, women still face many challenges that impact representation, particularly at the leadership level.
- Raise awareness: Share resources to help bring attention to the equal pay issue. Check out:
- Suggest best practices: Talk to your company’s leadership about industry best practices such as an audit or removing the question about previous salary.
- Don’t set and forget: as we discovered at Salesforce, you can’t fix equal pay once. Many factors contribute to pay inequality and new ones are thrown up by changing economic climates and market forces. At Salesforce we have spent $15 million (AUD) actively closing the gender pay gap and we conduct multiple pay reviews each year.
As Pip Marlow puts it, everyone has a stake in gender equality: “We all benefit from fair playing fields, diverse voices and leadership, and opportunities for new ideas to flourish.”
And equal pay is a huge part of the complex and ongoing fight for gender equality. Businesses have a critical role to play in ensuring gender inequality in any form, including financial, is revealed and remedied. And individuals too, can find ways to call out the impact of gender pay inequality and make it known that they won’t let it stand. Let’s not let it take even one more decade, let alone ten, to wipe out the gender pay gap.