From September 4, or Equal Pay Day, Australian women are effectively working for free till the end of the year. That’s because the gender pay gap puts their average pay 15.3 per cent behind their male counterparts.
It’s is a key marker in the workplace inequality between men and women.
The average working woman earns $251.20 less per week than the average bloke, so across the year that totals just over $13,000.
Libby Lyons, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, calls the gender pay gap “a measure of lost potential”. She acknowledges the slight improvement in the pay gap, which is down 0.9 per cent in a year, but also said that we need a “continued effort” on this front.
A lot of men find this situation confusing and feel guilty, but instead of wallowing there are things we can do. Gender equality isn’t a problem for women alone.
I hear from a lot of men that they want to do something in support of gender equality but don’t know where to start. Research from Cambridge University shows that the first step starts with understanding and becoming familiar with the issues facing women around you.
But it begs the question, what’s a man to do?
There are gimmicks like cafes charging men more, but real action is more personal.
Men need to provide opportunities for women, and that can mean taking a step back. When my parents first had children in the 1980s, my dad took a year off to be the primary carer to my older brothers. This allowed my mum to go back to work and continue her career, giving her greater financial independence.
Dad was a tradie then and still calls this one of the best decisions he ever made. It gave him an insight into what it meant to be a hands-on parent and what he wanted out of life.
It also helped him understand gender differences at work.
Another key part of this issue is pay negotiation. Men are three times more likely to be successful in talking themselves into a higher salary than women are, according to Glassdoor research.
Sharing your approach to pay negotiation with female friends will help them understand where they should be aiming.
Hannah Riley Bowles, an academic who researches negotiation, wrote in 2014 that “women get a nervous feeling about negotiating for higher pay because they are intuiting — correctly — that self-advocating for higher pay would present a socially difficult situation for them — more so than for men”.
In line with this is speaking up on the value of work that women do, as colleagues and more generally. Fields where more women work than men are undervalued and underpaid, and the opposite for where men outnumber women.
But the work of women often underpins our daily lives and quality of life – healthcare, education and a breadth of services.
While it sounds soft, the Diversity Council of Australia’s research shows that “men also experience higher quality work resulting from greater teamwork and collaboration” when there is greater gender equality at work.
Closing the gender pay gap is a difficult task, but women have been pushing this cause by themselves for too long. When men step up then we can see real change and move on from an issue that should be prehistoric.
Achieving gender equality sits at the feet of men, starting on that path isn’t as difficult as it looks.
Conrad Liveris is a corporate adviser on workplaces and risk. He holds a Certificate in Governance and Risk Management and a Master of Commerce.