Office workers on their lunch break in Sydney.
Employers with 100-plus staff must publish their gender pay gaps to encourage workplace equality. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Call for action on gender equity as pay gaps exposed

February 27, 2024

A spotlight has been shone on Australian employers who have yawning gender pay gaps and the pressure is on to close them.

Gender wage gap data at individual company level has been made public for the first time and revealed nearly two-thirds of employers had gender pay gaps favouring men

The data, published by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, showed about a third had a pay gap close to zero and about eight per cent were in favour of women.

Federal Minister for Women Katy Gallagher said it was “substantial problem”.

“Something has to change,” Senator Gallagher told reporters on Tuesday.

She said the government took women’s economic equality seriously but would not be “coming out saying ‘you have to do this, this or this'” to employers.

One possible avenue for driving change was using gender equity metrics and other ethical standards to guide government spending on contracts and supplies.

“That is something that I’m looking at,” the minister said.

Gender equality agency chief executive Mary Wooldridge said the data release, made possible by a legislative reform passed in 2023, was a significant step forward in understanding gender equality in Australian workplaces.

“This is a call for action on gender equality,” Ms Wooldridge told reporters on Tuesday.

Katy Gallagher and Mary Woolbridge
 Katy Gallagher and Mary Wooldridge say more needs to be done to tackle gender pay imbalances. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

She said the results proved change was possible, with a large discrepancy between the best and worst performing employers even in industries where the pay gap was most pronounced. 

Deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley welcomed the data as information that “makes clear who is getting this right and who is getting this wrong”.

She distanced herself from comments by Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who took to social media platform X to describe the gender pay report as “useless” data that “breeds resentment and division”.

Ms Ley told reporters on Tuesday she disagreed with those comments.

“I know that backbenchers in our parties are entitled to express their views but as the most senior woman in the Liberal party, this is really important,” she said.

Greens spokesperson on women Larissa Waters said the government needed to do more to encourage employers to close their gender pay gaps. 

Sussan Ley
 Sussan Ley rejected comments by senator Matt Canavan the gender pay report was “useless” data. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“Of course, it’s up to employers now to improve and to disclose their gender pay gap, but there’s a role for government here too,” Senator Waters said. 

She wanted the government to commit to using its purchasing power to encourage employers to fix their gender pay gaps and for both major political parties to stop taking donations from the worst offenders. 

The data, released on Tuesday, revealed a link between more women in leadership roles and lower pay discrepancies, with employers with gender balance in management roles 50 per cent more likely to have a neutral pay gap. 

Australian airlines including Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin reported a median pay gap of 37 per cent, 43.7 per cent and 41.7 per cent respectively. 

Qantas Group chief people officer Catherine Walsh said the data did not mean women were paid less than men to do the same jobs.

Qantas and Virgin planes.
 Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin reported median pay gaps of 37 per cent, 43.7 per cent and 41.7 per cent. Image by AP PHOTO 

Rather there was significant under-representation of women in more highly paid roles such as pilots and engineers, jobs the airline was working to encourage more women into. 

“The years of training required for these roles means improving the gender balance of these work groups will take time,” Ms Walsh said.

Banks reported significant pay gaps in favour of men, including 18.8 per cent at NAB, 28.5 per cent at Westpac and 29.9 per cent at the Commonwealth Bank.

A CBA spokesperson said women reflected 54 per cent of the bank’s local workforce and 44 per cent of leadership roles. 

But 71 per cent of customer service and operational roles, which typically have lower rates of pay, were held by women.