The gender pay gap – ‘like for like’ solutions are only half the issue

Equal Pay Day will fall on 4th September this year in Australia. The relevance of this date refers to the additional time that women need to work from the beginning of this financial year to earn the same as men.

Over the next few days, you will undoubtedly be inundated with information about equal pay day, most of it lamenting that in 2017, we are still talking about this issue. Many organisations will describe the ‘journey’ they are on in closing this gap and then the day will pass and we will go back to doing the same thing we were doing last week.

According to the Gender Workplace Equality Agency (WGEA), the national gender pay gap currently sits at 15.3%, down from 16.2% for the same period last year. Although moving in the right direction, the glacial pace of change is unacceptable.

Many organisations are announcing that due to their focus and efforts, their ‘like for like’ pay discrepancies are all but a thing of the past. Great news! But ‘like for like’ pay disparity shouldn’t be difficult to fix. You run a pay audit, ensure that people are getting paid the same amount for performing the same work, and problem solved.

The problem is that it is not the ‘like for like’ pay disparity that is the real culprit here. The real problem lies in the occupational and industrial segregation of the workforce, where women are over-represented in low paying administrative roles, and in industries that are not valued enough to be paid well.

According to WGEA, women represent 72% of the workforce in Community and Personal Services roles, 75% of all clerical and administrative positions across industries but only represent 16% of CEOs and 29% of key management personnel. And before people say that this is because there are not enough good women available for senior roles, let’s consider the fact that, women comprise 53% of all professional roles and almost 60% of sales roles – the very roles that provide the pipeline into more senior executive positions.

So, even with competent women available and good intentioned people focused on this issue, the problem persists.

To be fair – this is a complex issue. There are so many moving parts to this puzzle as to make it a problem that is far harder to solve than most people think. Hard to solve, yes, but not impossible. A couple of good places to start would be the following:

What organisations can do

  • Make flexibility a reality for everyone without the worry of it being used against them in the next round of promotions.
  • De-gender the conversation around parental leave – provide incentives for men to take parental leave without longer term career repercussions.
  • Change the approach to career paths – take away the notion of “up or out” that many organisations still follow.
  • Set tough targets that have teeth AND consequences for inaction – it is too easy for many executives to say that they tried to make a difference without much success.
  • Earmark senior roles for experienced and competent women – no-one is interested in an unqualified person taking on a senior role, but the pipeline of competent women exists and it seems counterintuitive not to leverage their skills.

What Government can do

  • Address the issues surrounding adequate and affordable childcare options. The fact remains that in many Australian families, without this option, women are faced with no other choice other than to stay at home with young children. No matter how rewarding this may be, most women would still like to have a real choice.
  • Consider making flexible work arrangements a right for all Australians.

What we can all do

  • Stop giving the gender pay gap lip service and really consider the impact that it is having on half of the population, including your daughters, wives, sisters and friends.
  • Raise the issue in your workplace and ask what your organisation is doing to tackle this issue.
  • Lobby Government to ensure that the hurdles many women face in reaching their full potential in the workplace are removed.

As important as it is to celebrate the small wins such as the narrowing of the ‘like for like’ gender pay gap, until such time that we all inform ourselves of the root issues of this problem and get serious about making a real and sustainable difference, we will continue to be talking about the gender pay gap well into the future.

Optimiss Consulting works with organisations who are focused on driving better business outcomes through inclusive work practices. To book your free 30 minute phone consultation, contact us at or through our website