Today is Equal Pay Day in Australia.
On 18 August, we learnt that Australia's national gender pay gap had widened further. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) announced that the gap had increased from 13.4% last year to 14.2% this year, meaning that Australian women have to work an additional 61 days from the end of the last financial year to earn the same as men. Put differently, if we made the same as men, we'd be working for free from the 30th of June to the 31st of August.
Is this surprising? Hardly. We know that COVID hit women a lot harder for a number of reasons: women are more likely to be in casual or part-time employment, and work in industries (such as travel and hospitality) that were impacted most. And this doesn't even include the value of the disproportionate amount of unpaid labour that women have shouldered during the crisis (I wonder how much further that would widen the gap).
What is the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap is the difference between the average full-time weekly pay received by women and men, expressed as a percentage of men's earnings. According to the WGEA:
On average, Australian women working full-time earned $1,575.50, while men earned $1,837.00. That means the difference in average weekly full-time earnings between women and men is $261.50.
WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge said in an official statement that the increase in the pay gap was "concerning and served as a warning to ensure continued focus, effort and commitment to bring it back down again."
What is Equal Pay Day?
Equal Pay Day marks the number of extra days from the end of the previous financial year that women would need to work to earn as much as men did. The day can change from one year to another, depending on how long it takes for women to "catch up". In 2020, Equal Pay Day was on the 28th of August, but this year, it's on the 31st of August, reflecting the increased disparity between men and women's salaries.
In essence, the equal pay day calculations tell us how much less women earn than men, while the gender pay gap calculation tells us how much more men earn than women.
Why does Equal Pay Day matter?
Equal Pay Day is a symbolic reminder that women's work is not considered to be of equal value to that of men. According to Wooldridge, closing the pay gap is ultimately just about fairness. The data reveals that women's earnings are lower than men's across every industry and occupation in Australia. What that means is that if we were to continue at the current rate, it will take another 26 years to close the gender pay gap.
What about BIPOC?
In Australia, unfortunately, we don't break these statistics down from an intersectional point of view, unlike the United States for example, where we know Equal Pay Day looks different for Black, Latinx, Native American and AAPI women. Refinery29 Australia has reached out to the WGEA for comment, but the publicly available statistics on Indigenous women's pay are sobering enough: Indigenous Australian women make less than half of non-Indigenous men, and $349 less a week than Indigenous men.
What can we do?
We know that gender equality is impossible without financial equality. Here are some things we can do as a start:
Talk about money
It's time we made money conversations less taboo. Share your salary with women and gender-diverse people, particularly if you're on a high salary.
Negotiate your salary
Advocate for others
If you're in a managerial role that can influence pay, speak to your HR department about a gender pay audit, or run an informal one of your own. I've personally championed significant pay rises for women that deserved it multiple times over my career, and it's always been extremely gratifying.
Talk to your employer
WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge says that Equal Pay Day is a good reminder that gender pay audits matter.
“Research proves that regular audits close pay gaps faster," she says. The 2021 Gender Equity Insights Report from BCEC and WGEA showed that employers who consistently did pay audits between 2015-20 closed their managerial pay gaps faster than all other companies. By contrast, those who stopped doing pay audits actually saw their managerial pay gaps increase.”
She adds that while it has been demonstrated that improving workplace gender equality has clear economic benefit, the work of Australian women deserves to be equally and fairly valued in our workplaces as a basic principle.