Women in Australia earn, on average, 13% less than their male counterparts. The findings, revealed in a recently released OECD report, make me wonder – what are the root causes of gender pay inequality, and what can we do about it?
The report outlines several causes for the pay gap.
Firstly, women tend to work in professions that pay less than men. In Australia, our workforce is highly segregated into typical ‘male’ roles, and roles dominated by female workers. For example, industry employs only 8.9% of female workers, compared to 30.9% of men. In fact, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, around 60% of Australian workers are employed in a workplace that is dominated by either male or female workers. This gender imbalance is a major driver of the gender pay gap because jobs in female-dominated sectors tend to be lower paid.
Despite Australian women having higher educational outcomes than Australian men – females now make up 58.7% of university bachelor graduates – they are less likely to study and enter careers in the lucrative science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
Vertical segregation, or an imbalance in gender profile of workers in operational and administrative jobs versus management or leadership roles, also plays a big part. The OECD report indicates that only 36.2% of managerial roles are held by women. Alarmingly, in 2015, RMIT ABC Fact Check found that there were more big companies in Australia run by men called Peter than there were run by women. Seriously?
A key reason for this, and for the pay gap between women and men, is that women in Australia take on a disproportionate amount of responsibility for caring for families.
Women often disrupt their career path, or take up part-time employment so that they can take on the unpaid work of raising a family. Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2015-16 reveals that an astounding 95% of all primary parental leave within non-public sector employers was taken by females. The added responsibility of primary family carer can act as a barrier to women pursuing higher-paid management and leadership roles.
So what’s the answer?
Reducing the cost of child-care can help, and the OECD report identifies that whilst Australian childcare is not as expensive as in many other countries, it’s also not the cheapest. For a dual-income, two-child family on a moderate wage, childcare costs around 20% of disposable household income, compared to a 13% average in OECD countries.
However, the report identifies that tackling the deeply entrenched social norms of women as family carers and men as bread-winners is vital to open up choices for both women and men balancing family life with careers. Flexible working arrangements that allow both men and women to take on an equal partnership of caring for their families is essential if we are to succeed.
Statistics are one thing, but what about the day-to-day juggle of caring for kids and running a household? Managing a family is a team effort. With our daughters, and sons, watching on, keeping your career on track whilst sharing family responsibilities is a way we can all help to tackle the social stereotypes.
Practical measures of asking for help, outsourcing domestic chores, seeking out flexible working arrangements and sharing responsibility as a family unit are all strategies that can help you succeed in a career that you love.
It’s time to close the gap.
Donna Thistlethwaite is the professional careers coach behind CareerSmart Mums, a workshop that offers return-to-work mums the practical and motivational help they need to pursue a career that they love. For more information, and to join the CareerSmart Mums network, visit www.careersmartmums.com.au.