What Does The Gender Pay Gap Look Like In Australia?

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The gender pay gap still very much exists in Australia.  

There have been moments of progress throughout our history, but at the rate we’re going no one alive now will see equal pay in their lifetime – with some experts having estimated it’ll take over ninety-nine and a half years for the gender pay gap to close. 

So, what’s keeping our workforce from being gender-equal, and why should it really become a national priority for 2021? 

It’s Been 50+ Years Since Australia’s Historic Equal Pay Decision

It’s been over 50 years since Australia’s historic Equal Pay decision, which promised that if men and women were to do the same work then they would also be paid the same. 

In the five decades that have passed, female participation in the workforce has dramatically increased 

But the promise of equal pay for equal work still hasn’t been reached, and Australia still hasreally long way to go before our workforce could be considered gender equal.  

It’s actually the subject of a new documentary series, which highlights some of the challenges that women today still face. 

The gender pay gap currently stands at 14% and, according to 2020 data, that means on average men earned around $250 more than women per week last year. 

Women also largely carry the unpaid workload of caring for their children or elderly relatives, more so than men, which still today impacts their professional opportunities. 

What Covid Data Showed Us About The Gender Pay Gap

Covid only made the pay gap between men and women worse, so much so that last year Victoria saw the largest number of women unemployed in its history. 

Female work hours were reduced by 11.5% in April 2020 compared to a 7.5% reduction for male workersbecause it was largely industries like hospitality and the arts that were the hardest hit by job losses, which are traditionally more female-dominated. 

Statistics like these are really frustrating, especially considering how much pressure Australian workplaces have been under to pay all their workers fairly. 

But it’s not that we haven’t made any progress. 

Where’s The Contemporary Progress?

Up until 1912, it just hadn’t even been considered that women could be paid for work. In fact, the first workers’ wage completely left out women. 

Even when women did start earning salaries, they weren’t suddenly given a full wage that could support a family like men got; it was real baby steps because they still weren’t seen as capable of financially supporting their family.  

But they did finally count for something called a ‘living’ wage, thanks to a famous fruit pickers’ case in the early 1900s that set an important precedent for women’s wages. 

During the second world war when men were off fighting, women started doing a lot of the jobs that had been done by men. 

It catalysed efforts to secure more working rights for women and led to women being paid 75% of the male wage for doing the same jobs. 

By far the most monumental moment for workplace equality came in 1969, when the Equal Pay Case finally accepted that work of equal value should be equally paid, regardless of gender. 

But recognising the idea and need for equal pay wasn’t enough to put it into practice back then, and it still isn’t today.  

The hidden workplace biases that largely favour male workers over female ones still exist. 

And taking time off to have children or to care for aging parents shouldn’t be interpreted as women taking their jobs less seriously, but it still often is. 

Closing The Gender Pay Gap: A 2021 Priority

Organisations like the Sydney Women’s Fund are advocating for women’s work to be a national priority in 2021, and really, it’s just kind of sad that it hasn’t been made a priority before. 

We need to find solutions to these issues.  

Care work, for example, could be paid for by the government. And until female workers are actually given the same opportunities as their male co-workers, the gender pay gap will just remain an issue. 

The Takeaway 

Women’s work hasn’t ever been equally valued in Australia, and the pandemic really highlighted that. 

Despite some slow progress in this space, there still needs to be a real undoing of workplace gender bias if Australia is ever actually going to achieve gender pay equity.