Stagnant gender pay gap a wake-up call for employers to pick up the pace

Mary Wooldridge, Director at Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)

Progress to close the gender pay gap between Australian women and men has stalled for the first time in 2022, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). The annual dataset on gender equality has revealed progress has stalled, with the gap remaining at 22.8%. It means women earned, on average, $26,596 less than men in 2021-22.

What were the findings of WGEA’s survey?

The WGEA 2021-22 Employer Census finds that although the number of female CEOs has risen slightly from last year, still only 22% of CEOs are women. Men are more likely to hold managerial positions, even in female-dominated industries such as healthcare and education.

This is despite research showing that profitability and productivity increase under women’s leadership. More women in key decision-making positions also contribute to improved company performance, yet just 1 in 5 governing boards are gender-balanced, while more than 1 in 5 boards have no women at all. Since 2014, the number of boards without women has dropped from 37% to 22%, but 72% are still comprised of a majority (>60%) of men.

Less than 1% of boards comprise only women. The WGEA Employer Census finds that more employers are offering paid primary carers leave than last year (62%, compared to 60% in 2021), with 92% of those offering it equally to women and men. New voluntary reporting shows 53% of employers have set some form of target for gender equality in the workplace.

Of those who have set targets, more than half (55%) have done so to increase the number of women in leadership. Fewer employers have targets to reduce the gender pay gap (38%), increase the number of men taking parental leave (19%), increase male take up of flexible work arrangements (16%), or boost the number of men in female-dominated roles (14%).

In good news for employees who want the flexibility to choose how, when and where they work, new voluntarily reporting showed many workplaces are moving to an ‘all roles flex’ model. Nearly 2 in 5 employers (38%) reported they have implemented an ‘all-roles flex’ approach, ensuring the focus is on work output and outcomes, not hours spent in the office.

What do the findings mean for Aussie organisations?

Agency Director Mary Wooldridge said the stagnant gender pay gap must be a signal to employers to pick up the pace by implementing policies and practices that evidence shows contribute to improved gender equality. “At a time when Australia is experiencing a critical skills and labour shortage, WGEA’s study shows that too many employers have failed to step up on gender equality leaving many women no better off than they were 12 months ago.”

“A pay gap of 22.8% means women earn an average of $26,600 less than men, based on their gender. This failure to improve needs to be a clarion call for all employers.”

Ms Wooldridge said committed, leading employers are picking up the pace. “Lasting change requires employers to make bold choices that send a signal to all employees that gender equality is a core part of their business strategy and a priority for those in managerial roles.”

“Leading employers are putting solutions in place that address challenges like workforce shortages by tailoring factory shifts around school pick-up and drop-off times or promoting – and role-modelling – flexible hours or part-time work arrangements among executives.”

“This is a chance to measure how your firm’s workforce composition, policies and strategies for recruitment, promotion and retention shape up against the competition. Because if you’re not making progress on these things, your employees will realise there are others who are.”

Employers can compare how their firms are tracking using the Agency’s Data Explorer.