Are we still talking about gender wage disparity?

“..As Justice Mary Gaudron, the first woman to be appointed to the High Court, famously said in 1979: ”Equal pay was ‘won’ in 1969 and again in 1972 and yet again in 1974.” And, she added, ”We still don’t have it”..”  Anne Summers writes:

“..In the early 1980s when I headed the Office of the Status of Women during the Hawke government I used to travel the country giving speeches about how women were faring. One of the positive trends I liked to identify was the significant increase in women’s earnings in relation to men’s.

Sure, women still earned only 80.1¢ for every dollar men got but, I argued, given the trend in recent years we were speeding towards parity. No question about it. Just 14 years earlier, in 1970, women earned only 59.1¢ but that had risen to 70.4¢ by 1973 and to 77.4¢ in 1975. In 1979 the figure was 80.6¢. OK, in 1984 it was down a bit but, I used to confidently assert, this is just a temporary blip. There was no way the gender pay gap was not going to be banished from the Australian economy.

Back then I was certainly not pessimistic enough to envisage a scenario in which, almost 30 years later, in 2013, I would be trying to explain why women today earn only 83.5¢. Nor could I have foreseen that this gap is not merely persistent but that it is actually widening. Nine years ago, in August 2004, women almost hit the 85¢ mark, equalling a previous high. But it didn’t last and the gender pay gap now seems to be permanently stuck around 17.5 per cent. (This is according to ABS average weekly ordinary full-time earnings; on some other measures the gap is considerably wider.)..”

It is depressing to say the least. A quick perusal of recent news, views and opinions shows that wage disparity is reported time and time again. A few days ago, the Age reported that the wage gap for graduates has increased from $2000 in 2011 to $5000 in 2012. And there are various other iterations on the theme.

Almost 18 months ago, I wrote about unconscious bias which accounts for some of the problem at least. But how to change it?

The answer, in part, the commentators suggest, is to substantially increase the the transparency around wages.  To start talking about who is paid what, openly and transparently. For every organisation to ask themselves whether they’d pay a male the same wage as that which they’re paying the female. And if not, why not?

If every organisation had to openly publish and compare the wage rates of all employees and their relevant positions, it would be a start. Competitive advantage, I hear you cry.  But for too long, organisations have conveniently hidden inequality under the veil of legitimate concerns such as the “war on talent”.

We need to change the work environment in order that we can have these conversations, openly and without heat and rancour.  To start to challenge the hidden bias, the unconscious bias; bring it to the surface and allow it to be shattered. Or not. There will be organisations that choose to continue the inequality, the bias. But change only starts when organisations start doing something different.

Because clearly, what we’re doing at present just isn’t working.

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