Gender Equality Still Demands Our Attention Downunder

As International Women’s Day approaches, the release of the very first Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) report on Gender Pay Gaps today underscores an unsettling reality:  gender equality remains a distant goal in Australia’s professional landscape. Despite legislative mandates requiring employers with 100 or more employees to annually disclose date, the stark figures paint a picture that demands urgent action.

Why are we still talking about Gender Equality in Australia?

Consider this: a staggering 50% of employers reveal gender pay gaps exceeding 9.1%, with the construction sector bearing the highest median gap at 31.8%. Shockingly, some industries exhibit gaps of over 40%!

Among the big names to report a large median pay gap are major airlines — Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all between 35 and 45 per cent — as well as major law firms Maurice Blackburn (30.7 per cent), Slater & Gordon (31.3 per cent) and Lavan (42.4 per cent), the big four banks, all between 18 and 29.9 per cent, and major miners.

The stats are even more shocking when we dig deeper. Only a disheartening 19.4% of CEO’s in Australia are women with only 10.5% representation among ASX 200 CEO’S. These statistics fail to include the additional hurdles faced by women around colour, those with disabilities, refugees, Indigenous Australians, neurodiverse individuals and migrants.

Interestingly the correlation between increased female representation in leadership roles and lower gender pay gaps, as highlighted in the WGEA report, underscores a crucial point:  achieving gender party demands a fundamental restricting of corporate hierarchies.

The prognosis offered by the World Economic Forum recently is equally disappointing announcing that Gender Parity is 131 years away, an unacceptable timeline by any measure.

So what actionable steps can Australian employers take to expedite progress towards gender equality:

1. Revamp Hiring Practices.  Embrace inclusivity by adopting a skill-first approach to recruitment.  Job descriptions should emphasise skill over qualification, assess what is absolutely required and what flexibility can be offered. Think about tapping into diverse talent pools and create clear promotion pathways.

2. Address Bias and Banter. UK study showed that 33% of those impacted by banter considered leaving an organisation. The prevalence of workplace banter and implicit biases perpetuates systematic inequality.  Training and open dialogue with employees can foster awareness help raise awareness and create behavioural change, reducing the exodus of talent driven away by workplace toxicity.

3. Cultivate Psychological Safety. True equality flourishes in environments where women feel empowered to assert themselves in salary negotiations and vie for promotions without fear reprisal. Creating a culture of psychological safety is paramount in dismantling barriers to advancement.

In taking proactive measures to address gender inequality, organisations not only foster a more equitable workplace but also gain valuable insights into tackling systemic inequities across other areas too.  With gender parity forecasted to languish beyond the horizon, the imperative for action is clear:  131 years is a timeline we cannot afford to accept.