We’ve come a long way on equal pay, but the job’s not done

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In a world that increasingly champions equality and diversity, one would hope that the concept of equal pay between men and women would be an established norm. Yet, every year, Equal Pay Day serves as a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go to achieve true gender financial parity.

Hopefully, you were already aware, but for those who missed it – Equal Pay Day was on Friday and from my perspective it’s imperative that we delve into the significance of this day, understand the strides we’ve made, and most importantly acknowledge the work that remains to be done in this space.

The stark reality is that women, on average, continue to earn less than men for performing identical tasks.Credit: Dionne Gain

Equal pay is more than just a catchphrase; it embodies the principle that regardless of one’s gender, an individual should receive equitable compensation for the same work – a concept that hopefully all of you agree with.

It’s important to point out that equal pay day is not about ensuring that everyone across the board is paid the same – that’s a conversation for another day – but instead about every single individual being equally compensated for the same job being performed.

However, the stark reality is that women, on average, continue to earn less than men for performing identical tasks. In a recent report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), it was revealed that the gender pay gap in Australia fell for the second consecutive year to hit a record low of 13 per cent, which means that for every dollar a man earns, a woman makes 87 cents. This discrepancy may seem small, but it accumulates into a significant annual difference of $13,120 in base salary or a total of $252.30 each week.

You might read that and think “that’s not so bad Victoria” so if that’s you, let me put it even further into context. If at the age of 25, someone starts investing $252 per week (because let’s be honest, starting at 18 is a lot of pressure right out the gate) up to the retirement age of 65, at an average rate of return of 9.6 per cent (because that’s the 30-year average of the ASX) that person would potentially have an investment portfolio worth $6,129,481.

Despite improvements, the reality remains that women are still earning less than men across all industries and in every state and territory.

Six million dollars more for the same role and duties, just because you’re male. Right there I’ve just given you more than six million reasons why we need to care about equal pay.

It’s fascinating how, especially this year, pop culture icons are so often intersecting with real-world issues, shedding light on matters that affect us all. I would say that Barbie, Taylor Swift and the legendary Matildas exemplify this. Just as Barbie dolls have long embodied different careers and possibilities for young girls, the doll’s recent emphasis on empowerment and diversity has highlighted the importance of women’s achievements and equal opportunities.

The Barbie movie phenomenon, coupled with Swift’s empowering anthems and the formidable performance of The Matildas in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, have fuelled positive cultural sentiment and challenged societal attitudes. These instances underscore the shift towards gender equality, not only in theory but also in the broader cultural discourse.

As we recognise the advancements we’ve made, it’s vital to acknowledge the areas that require further attention. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) calls for proactive measures to address gender pay gaps in companies is of paramount importance. While the reduction in the gender pay gap is commendable, much more needs to be done to ensure that women are paid their rightful dues.

It’s evident that employers play a crucial role in reshaping the landscape of gender equality in the workplace. This goes beyond merely addressing pay gaps. Employers must recognise and challenge entrenched gender norms and stereotypes that hinder women’s progress, and instead foster an environment where women can thrive professionally and personally.

The impact of this progress is further highlighted by the WGEA, which reported that women’s full-time average weekly total earnings jumped by 4.6 per cent over the year to May 2023, surpassing the 3.6 per cent growth in male average weekly earnings.

Despite these improvements, the reality remains that women are still earning less than men across all industries and in every state and territory, and in 2023 that’s honestly not good enough. Women still need to work an extra 56 days on average to earn the equivalent salary as men. In Queensland, the gender pay gap stands at 14.8 per cent, the second-largest in the country. For those in part-time or casual roles, the gap widens to 22 per cent nationally.

Legislative changes, like the government’s Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill and the upcoming mandatory reporting on gender pay gaps, are steps in the right direction. However, as Simone Cheung, partner at Deloitte Access Economics, aptly points out, the real test lies in how women fare amidst the challenges of a cost-of-living crisis and economic uncertainties – something we’re all struggling with – as with every economic crisis though, the most impacted are women and minorities.

Education, on the other hand, presents a complex challenge with a timeframe of 139 years to equality due to the link between women’s chosen fields of study and potential earnings. That’s 139 years too many – because it means I’m not going to be around to see the day when women have equality.

Equal Pay Day, while probably not a day your office rolled out the cupcakes to celebrate, is a reminder of the progress we’ve made, the challenges we face, and the potential of a future where pay gaps no longer exist. The amalgamation of legislative measures, cultural influences, and industry initiatives can bridge the gap between aspiration and reality.

As we discuss this year’s Equal Pay Day, let’s seize the momentum, challenge the status quo, and work collectively to create a world where equal pay is not just a day on the calendar, but a fundamental principle guiding our actions and shaping our society.

Victoria Devine is an award-winning retired financial adviser, best-selling author, and host of Australia’s number one finance podcast, She’s on the Money. Victoria is also the founder and co-director of Zella Money.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

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