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I’ve been working in the field of gender equality since the mid ’80s (first as an equal opportunity consultant and then as a leadership coach primarily for emerging women leaders), and if someone told me back then that there would still be a gender pay gap in 2024 I would have laughed my head off and said “Impossible!”


However, breaking news across all forms of media last Tuesday, February 27 was that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency had just published for the first time┬áthe gender pay gaps of almost 5,000 private sector employers of more than 100 people. This was as a result of amendments to the Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) Act. Employers have been required to report annually on, among other things, their gender pay gaps since affirmative action legislation was first proclaimed in Australia back in 1986. However the recent amendments include the requirement that the WGE Agency now include each business’ pay gap on the WGEA website for all to see.


What we learned from all these news bulletins was that a large number of businesses had a gender pay gap of more than 50% (in other words for every dollar a man earns a woman earns 50 cents), and that the worst businesses were the banks, airlines and football clubs. The airlines explained their high gap because pilots and engineers are highly paid and more often male.


Does any of this matter? Of course it does because it means that prospective customers and talented new hires can research the gender pay gaps of businesses and decide which ones they either want to do business with and/or work for.


What causes a gender pay gap in the first place? I don’t for a minute think that senior HR people have ever sat down and decided to pay men more than women. One of the reasons is because, as above, the gender distribution of our workforce and who gets paid how much – for example pilots and engineers more than flight attendants, and doctors more than nurses. STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) roles are slowly being feminised and this will help reduce these gaps.


However I believe another root cause involves 2 factors: the first is the confidential nature of remuneration, particularly at more senior levels and the second is that women are less inclined to negotiate. An example from one of my leadership coaching clients illustrates this well. I’ll call her Susan, Susan had been offered a relatively senior HR role in one of Australia’s publicly listed manufacturing companies. She gratefully accepted the role and the nominated salary. A man, let’s call him John, is recruited into a similar role at virtually the same time. The only difference being that John negotiated hard for an increase in his entry salary. Many years later as Susan and John parallel tracked their way to ever more senior roles in the business, it came to light that John was being paid much more each year than Susan. Susan left that business soon after.


How can the gender pay gap be closed? In lots of ways including: make pay scales transparent throughout the different levels of the business, identify the gaps and level them out, train women in negotiating skills, provide family friendly salary packages and flexible working arrangements and publicly promote these to attract more women applicants.