Female professionals are concerned new federal legislation to improve pay equity in the workplace doesn’t go far enough.
Last week the Federal Government passed the Gender Pay Gap Transparency Bill to address the disparity in pay for Australian women and men.
The Bill requires all employers with 100 or more employees to publicly report their gender pay gaps, including the average pay and bonuses for men and women in their organisation.
Senior Murdoch university research scientist and clinical triallist Dr Kylie Sandy-Hodgetts is a working mum who has been leading medical research for most of her career.
She says she has struggled to find her place as a woman throughout her career working in the medical field.
“Unfortunately, I did face barriers with the good old boys club.”
“Sometimes you just find ways around it and sometimes there aren’t ways around it,” she says.
“Those barriers do exist unfortunately, and although it’s improved, I think we still have such a long way to go.”
Dr Sandy-Hodgetts says she was faced with doubts, disruptions, and lost opportunities throughout her career.
“In terms of payment, we are nowhere near on par or equity with men in the same role and I think it doesn’t only come down to merit but your ability to bring value and negotiate as well.”
“Men are more likely to have the freedom to attend to new opportunities because of the support network they have at home.”
She says becoming a mother has had significant impacts on her career.
“In terms of being a woman, in your career, if you’re at that age, you’re raising kids and you are often the primary carer.”
“You miss those opportunities for growth, you miss the professional opportunities to accelerate your career,” she says.
“That means you need to work harder and faster in order to complete tasks of someone else who doesn’t have the same level of carer responsibility as you do too.”
A study by Emerald Insight says motherhood has detrimental effects on a woman’s career progression.
Dr Sandy-Hodgetts says there was very limited support and resources to help her get back on track with her career.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to resources and networks, so where my contemporary male peers are for my career stage, I am probably 8 to 10 years behind them.”
“I am working a triple load to play catchup and be competitive in the space I am in.”
On its website, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) notes the gender pay gap is commonly misunderstood as two individuals being paid differently for work of the same value.
Instead, the gender pay gap highlights a combination of social and economic factors that impact a woman’s position in the workforce compared to their male counterpart.
WGEA CEO Mary Wooldridge says women are undervalued in Australian businesses and underrepresented where decisions are made.
She says legislative reforms to publish employer gender pay gap data is an opportunity prioritise gender equality and ensure businesses get serious about change.
“Publishing employer gender pay gaps will provide deeper insights on their employer’s progress.”
“It will allow us to ensure that all employees are being equally valued and rewarded.”
While publishing gender pay gaps will create greater awareness of the issue, there’s concern it may not necessarily address the underlying factors that contribute to the gap in the first place.
University of Sydney Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations Rae Cooper says gender inequity is a long-standing problem in the workforce.
“Even though women are now more than ever investing enormously in their education, the problem is not being fixed.”
Professor Cooper says hierarchical segmentation, horizontal occupation, industry segregation and women sitting disproportionally in lower paid jobs are leaving women earning substantially less than men.
She says while legislation is important, addressing these underlying issues requires a more comprehensive approach that goes beyond simply publishing pay data.
“We need to focus on the cultures and generational biases in organisations that devalue and discriminate against women.”Professor Rae Cooper
“The changes that have recently passed parliament simply mean that organisations which currently report their pay data confidentially to government will need to publicly disclose their gap,” she says.
“This is a great sunlight to the problem, but I hope this will create further pressure for action towards change.”
Dr Hodgetts says while gender pay gap transparency is a step in the right direction, she believes structural issues are the driving factor.
“It’s interesting that it’s become a gender issue rather than a structural issue and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the amendment Bill.”
“I think it’s a good idea because the more clarity we have around this, we can understand the true disparity between the gender pay gaps.”
However, she hopes for more access to resources to help manage the financial burden of working mothers returning to the workforce.
“Participation is really important, and I think we need to put more infrastructure in place that will allow women to return to the workplace.”
“It’s about having an equitable system where women are able to access resources that don’t cost much.”