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How mentoring and supporting women in the workplace can help defeat “dinosaur-age” attitudes
Behind every well-paid man is a woman doing the same work, for less money. Despite a visible uptick in global feminism, the gender pay gap in Australia recently worsened to 14.1%, an increase of 0.3% over the last six months.
By Shivani Gopal, published 4 October by Smart Company.
What that looks like in practical terms is earnings of $1,872.90 a week for a man working full-time versus $1,609 for a full-time female employees, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).
It says every industry still has a significant gender pay gap with professional, scientific and technical services leading – or should that be underpaying – women at a rate of 25.3%.
Just last month, AFR Rich Lister Sam Kennard helped shine a light on part of the problem.
His criticism of the Albanese government’s post-Jobs and Skills Summit attempt to get companies to put women at the forefront of business shows just what those who want to expose wage inequality are up against.
While businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to publicly report their gender pay gap to the WGEA – although they are already obliged to do so, the data is not disclosed individually – Kennard has come out to label the move “more red tape and bureaucracy” and “a little bit of a distraction too”.
It’s this kind of dinosaur-age attitude that has to change if women are ever going to achieve real equality in a playing field that is unfairly weighted towards the boys’ network.
A 2021 report by the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission on achieving gender pay equality in SMEs found the biggest barrier to gender pay equality was limited understanding of the concept of equal pay and how it affects workplaces.
It also identified a range of internal structural and cultural drivers of gender pay inequality in SMEs, as well as external drivers, such as persistent harmful gender stereotypes and social norms, limited industry standards and benchmarking frameworks, and limited unionisation.
At the big business end of town, some high profile players have been busy changing structures in favour of more female inclusion and, hopefully, more competitive salaries.
Westpac was the first company in Australia to introduce paid parental leave as early as 1995, partner leave three years later and, since 2017, has achieved a target of 50% of leadership roles held by women.
At Suncorp, a diversity and inclusion policy has seen 46% of women promoted to senior leadership roles, while at BHP, management has set an aspirational goal to achieve gender balance by 2025.
But make no mistake: This isn’t charitable action. Women can, and do, add real financial value to businesses and their gender does not impede that.
Research by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and the WGEA found that an increase in the share of female ‘top-tier’ managers by 10 percentage points or more led to a 6.6% increase in the market value of Australian ASX-listed companies, worth the equivalent of AU$104.7 million.
A 2022 study published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal also found that having more female employees in SMEs enhanced innovation outcomes, while recent British research suggested that, in the United Kingdom alone, women could add upwards of US$250 billion to the economy if their SMEs started and scaled at the same rate as their male counterparts.
While the Minister for Women Katy Gallagher is optimistic the new laws will increase the pressure on all businesses to reduce pay inequality, I do not believe women employees or entrepreneurs cannot afford to wait for change.
Data from advocacy organisation Chief Executive Women estimates it will take 100 years at the current rate for women to hold 40% of CEO positions in Australia’s largest companies.
As a former financial adviser, I also constantly saw women earning up to $100,000 less per annum in the same role as men. It’s one of the reasons I started a leadership and mentoring platform for women called The Executive Circle, to help build women’s influence and close the gender pay gap.
So far, we’ve been able to help women get pay rises from $5000 to $80,000 a year by connecting them with a community of their peers and supporting them to have the right conversations around money.
Negotiating a pay rise can be tough for women, who are more inclined to suffer from impostor syndrome in a male-dominated business world. In fact, dissatisfaction with pay and progress is one of the major reasons women join our network.
Women’s solidarity, at all levels of business, is crucial to women’s economic advancement. Alone, women will continue to languish in the unfairly paid minority; together they are a force to be reckoned with, one that will no longer accept second-rate treatment in any workplace.