Mind the gap
When I was first asked to write about the gender pay gap I thought “oh no, don’t get me started on that…”. During my early career in nursing the differences between men and women were stark and started with the uniform – female student nurses, along with impractical dresses, wore silly white caps – no trousers allowed. Male students wore utilitarian pants and a shirt. There were three guys in my class, but training alongside us, male medical students outnumbered female medical students on the path to being much better paid doctors. The health care and social assistance sector is a great example of how entrenched the gender pay inequity is, with ABS figures showing a substantial difference in wage rates between men and women – 29% less.
I’m writing this the day after Equal Pay Day 2016. It is important for us to have transparency and debate about this issue. The media reports reveal that nothing much is changing. Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australian women earn about 83¢ for every $1 a man earns. And the ABC says that “new research has found female top tier managers in Australia are paid on average $100,000 a year less than their male counterparts.” So there’s still a way to go to close the gender wage gap.
Will all this chatter ever lead to real change and how can we make a difference?
The gender pay gap is often thought of as a “women’s issue”. But it’s men’s business too. Where a gender gap and inflexible work arrangements exist, it effects families – men, women and children. I noticed that when men came to work late or left early to do school drop off or pick up there were comments such as “isn’t he fabulous?”. Not so when women did the same. I heard comments such as “she’s always late” or “never here when we need her”.
I’ve spent my career in the female dominated fields of nursing and human resources and I know that part of the cause for the gender wage gap is that women dominate different jobs and sectors “where their work is lower valued and lower paid than those dominated by men.” 
I’m guilty of traits that have not done me any favours – for instance, I was not good at negotiating my salary and conditions, and I didn’t apply for roles if there was a tiny aspect where I felt under confident. I encourage women I speak with now to learn how to negotiate early in their career and to put up their hands for roles that seem a bit out of reach.
Organisations are tackling the issue in different ways. For example, ASIC has come up with a clever strategy of providing financial rewards to those who contribute to the hiring and promotion of women in the organization. Last year, PwC publicly disclosed the gender pay gap as they consider transparency a powerful way of addressing the issue. 
Here are a few things I recommend you do, if you believe you are being paid less than a man in your workplace, for work of equal value. Even if you work in a small workplace, you have the right to ask questions.
- Educate yourself about this issue
- Remember you are perfectly within your rights to find out how decisions about salaries are made.
- Check your contract and your job description to make sure you are not doing higher level tasks than what you are paid to do, without being rewarded for it.
- Ask your manager or HR team at your next salary review whether they have a pay equity strategy or action plan.
There’s plenty more facts and figures on pay equity and I would encourage you to visit the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Authority Agency’s website https://www.wgea.gov.au/.
Sarah McKinna is a Career Strategist and Coach with over 25 years’ experience in corporate and government HR roles. Sarah is a Professional Member of the Career Development Association of Australia. www.sarahmckinna.com.au
Sarah is a member of the FlexCoach panel of career and executive coaches.