President’s Report – August 2019

President’s Report – August 2019

The Gender Pay Gap – National (Un) Equal Pay Day, 28 August 2019

Today is National (Un) Equal Pay Day – a symbolic day dedicated to raising awareness of the national gender pay gap. The date marks the 59 additional days from the end of the previous financial year that women must work to earn the same amount as men earned in that financial year (on average).  

Although the most recent figures released from WGEA show a slight reduction in the gender pay gap, this updated data makes it clear that there is still a significant gap to bridge before we can consign the national pay gap to the annals of history.  

So as we mark (Un) Equal Pay Day for another year, I thought it was an opportune time to provide an overview what the gender pay gap actually means, how wide the gap is in 2019, what the main contributors to the issue are and what can be done to address this pervasive issue once and for all.  

What is the gender pay gap? 

The gender pay gap is often misunderstood to mean two people being paid differently for the same work or work of the same value – this is actually a reference to equal pay. 

The gender pay gap, however, is a measure of the difference between the average full time equivalent earnings of women and men, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. 

It is a measure of women’s overall position in the paid workforce and does not compare like roles. 

What is the current state of play?

Recent figures published by WGEA indicate that the national gender pay gap has narrowed slightly from 14.6% in 2018 to 14% in 2019. In practical terms, this translates to a full time average weekly earnings difference between men and women of $241.50 per week. 

However, despite this slight reduction, these recent figures also show an alarming statistic of increased discrimination against women in the workplace. 

Research from global consulting and accounting firm KMPG for the Diversity Council of Australia and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has found that ‘…stubborn gender stereotypes about the roles men and women play in paid work and caring’ continue to be the driving force behind the gender pay gap.

KPMG’s recently published report ‘She’s Price(d)less: The Economics of the Gender Pay Gap’has found that gender discrimination was the biggest factor contributing to the pay gap and that this trend is ‘disturbingly’ on the increase. 

The report also found that the next biggest contributor to the gender pay gap is occupational segregation (i.e. the unequal distribution of men and women in certain roles) and that women continue to be over-represented in lower paid roles and under-represented in more senior roles – but this is hardly a new revelation. 

Another factor? The impact of part time employment and unpaid work.

These findings make it clear that structural inequalities and rigid gender norms about the roles men and women play in paid work and care continue to perpetuate the existence of the gender pay gap in Australian workplaces.

In discussing these recent findings, Diversity Council of Australia, Chief Executive, Lisa Annese commented that despite work being done to narrow the gender pay gap, major culture change is required to address gender discrimination that applies to both sexes – much of which is unconscious:-

‘We need to continue to work together with like-minded people to push for a change to create a new kind of order where we don’t just liberate women in the workplace, but we liberate men from the narrow ideas of what it means to be a man.’

WGEA Director, Libby Lyons agrees:-

‘We have to challenge the stereotypes that little baby girls and little baby boys are born with. This is cradle to grave stuff. This is cultural stuff that we have to address – these things are ingrained in us and we’ve got to challenge them because, if we don’t, we will find we have a pay gap that persists.’     

What can be done to address this issue in the legal profession?

The legal profession is certainly no stranger to the gender pay gap and these updated figures also make it clear that this issue continues to plague our profession. Although almost 70 per cent of the legal sector is made up of women, the gender pay gap is 26.2% for full time employees. 

So what can we do as a profession to combat this issue? 

  1. The first and most obvious way to help women in the legal profession is to pay them appropriately and fairly. We want female practitioners to be confident that the law is a profession where talent, ability and application are rewarded – irrespective of gender or background;
  2. WGEA has confirmed that the last 5 years of reporting provides overwhelming evidence that when employers analyse their data for pay gaps and take clear action, their pay gap reduces. Whilst we know that some law firms are undertaking a regular pay gap analysis, the data also tells us that less than a quarter of those firms go on to report those metrics to their Executive or Board. Even more disappointingly, only half the firms who analysed their payroll for pay gaps went on and identified the cause. Employers are only disadvantaging themselves if they don’t take that last step;
  3. Law firms and organisations that employ lawyers need to implement robust strategies that require senior management to increase pay transparency, analyse their pay data, report their results to the Board and then take proactive and consistent steps to rectify any disparity;
  4. Organisational policies should be reviewed to ensure that opportunities for promotion are not linked to requirements that may be indirectly discriminatory against those with carers’ responsibilities or on any form of flexible work arrangement;    
  5. Steps should also be taken to ensure that those who are responsible for promotion (for example, partnership evaluation committees) are familiar with, and understand the organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies and promotion criteria;  
  6. The inclusion of a diversity advocate in critical decision-making meetings is also a way to ensure that any bias is identified early in the decision making process;  
  7. Firms and organisations should develop and implement policies and practices concerning flexible work practices including reduced schedules, family leave and carers’ responsibilities and monitor their implementation; and 
  8. Working parents should be supported through a range of measures that might include paid parental leave, flexible working options, a graduated return to financial targets, informal networking groups for new parents, access to information about childcare options and the ability to purchase additional annual leave.  

So on National (Un) Equal Pay Day 2019 I urge all leaders in our profession to take decisive, proactive and meaningful steps towards making our workplaces more equitable. 

We need strong leadership on this issue in our workplaces order to achieve a more just, equal and inclusive legal profession.