Female HR executives earn less

by 04 Feb 2008

WHILE ALMOST four out of ten executive HR manager positions in the ASX top 200 companies are held by females, the median pay gap between male and female executive HR managers is a massive 43 per cent.

At the most senior levels of Australian business, women are not receiving equal pay for equal work, according to research from the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).

The survey, which examined the remuneration of the five most highly paid executives in the top 200 ASX listed companies, found that women hold just 7 per cent of the top earner positions (80 positions out of 1,136) compared with 93 per cent held by men.

Furthermore, female CFOs and COOs earn just half the wage of their male equivalents, and even in the most senior HR positions, women earn a median of $314,042 compared to men at $551,237.

In CEO positions a female CEO earns two-thirds of the salary earned by her male counterpart.

The survey also found that in nine out of 10 industry sectors, the female median salary is less than the male median salary and there is no industry in which women are more likely to be top earners than men.

Even in support roles, where women are concentrated, men are more likely than women to be a top earner. Women in support positions have less than a 50 per cent chance of being a top earner.

“It is clear that pay inequity starts in a women’s first job and puts her on the back foot for the rest of her career,”said Anna McPhee, director of EOWA.

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics research found there is a pay gap of 35 per cent between men and women’s average weekly earnings, while Graduate Careers Australia also showed male graduates earn a higher starting salary and their salaries increase at a greater rate than women.

“The gaps between women’s and men’s earnings reflect a number of obstacles women still battle such as the undervaluation of women’s skills: women’s lower share of payments like overtime and bonuses; occupational and industrial segregation; lack of access to education and training; the impact of family responsibilities; the lack of mentors and champions; the prevalence of gender stereotypes and in some cases outdated ways in which remuneration is calculated,” McPhee said.

Australia cannot afford to continue to underpay women who are performing in the same highly-responsible senior positions as men, according to McPhee, especially at a time when retention and attraction of talented people is important to business.

Sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said the EOWA research made it clear that companies have to get serious about closing the gap between female and male earnings.

“The figures from this report tell us that our task stretches from the bottom rungs of the labour market all the way to the top, where you’d think our leading companies would be doing much better,” said Broderick.

“We need much greater leadership from business on this issue and a much stronger focus on the systemic problem of pay inequity for women as a whole. Women continue to be denied equal pay for equal work across the spectrum of employment arrangements.

Broderick said there were no excuses for occupational segregation, the impact of family responsibilities and the pervasive influence of gender stereotypes, and that there were many things companies could do to close the gap, such as pay equity audits.

“I’d like to see company boards taking this up as an issue, and I also think government has a role to play. Reforms to the industrial relations system need to make sure that closing the gender pay gap is front and centre,” she said.

“There is also a need for a program of monitoring and regular audits, together with resources to assist women with negotiating in the workplace, and the development of mentoring networks and champions.

Broderick said she would also like to see strong leadership from male CEOs on the issue of gender equality as a whole.

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