Mind the gap: Gender pay gap biggest in 20 years

by Janie Smith28 Aug 2014
Pay equality seems to be slipping further out of reach, with Australia’s gender pay gap at 18.2% - the highest point for the past two decades.

According to figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, that number is up from 17.5% in May last year.

And it’s a significant jump from 10 years ago, when the gap was reported as being 14.9%, according to Women’s Agenda.

Part of the solution in redressing the balance may lie in changing the way in which jobs are structured, according to Harvard University’s Henry Lee professor of economics, Claudia Goldin.

In a piece of research entitled A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter, Goldin said that the solution to equality in the labour market must involve changes, “in particular how jobs are structured and remunerated to enhance temporal flexibility”.

The pay gap is at its widest in industries like law, finance and medicine, which often require long hours, regular hours and work at specific times, news.com.au reported.

That focus on employees willing to put in the long hours is part of the problem, according to Goldin.

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who laboured long hours and worked particular hours.

“Such change has taken off in various sectors, such as technology, science and health, but is less apparent in the corporate, financial and legal worlds.”

For women structuring their working life around family obligations, being able to put in long hours and be constantly available is not practical.

“A flexible schedule often comes at a high price, particularly in the corporate, financial, and legal worlds,” said Goldin.

“Not all positions can be changed. There will always be 24/7 positions with on-call, all-the-time employees and managers, including many CEOs, trial lawyers, merger and acquisition bankers, surgeons and the US Secretary of State. But, that said, the list of positions that can be changed is considerable.”

She pointed out that greater flexibility was not just a “woman’s issue” and that all workers would benefit.

Do you think flexibility would help narrow the pay gap?

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  • by PhilB 28/08/2014 2:55:16 PM

    Yes. For some time a critical contributor to gender income inequality has been the gender division of labour. It is greatly exacerbated by long and inflexible hours. The crazy thing is that we have known for over a century that long hours reduce productivity - at the individual, organisational and national levels. It is in everyone's interests to think smart about work organisation and gender equity.

  • by Bruce 29/08/2014 1:26:02 PM

    Can we get the gender inequality that relates actually to females doing the same work as males? Saying that is it gender inequality when women are choosing to do lesser paid occupations, is not gender inequality. People should be chosen for a position on their ability to fulfill the role.

  • by Amanda Rochford 1/09/2014 3:26:47 PM

    Saying women are choosing to do lesser paid occupations is only part of the story. There are some women who 'choose' a lower paid position because they carry the brunt of the shopping, cleaning, clothes washing, child care, transportation, homework etc etc responsibilities of running a home for which they dont get paid. You just dont have the brain power or physical capability to do two jobs at a high level of responsibility for 16 hours a day and sometimes in the middle of the night. Additionally, taking maternity leave to give birth and care for a newborn, or working part-time hours, leaves employers with the idea that women are not as dedicated to their jobs as men. Women are further, disadvantaged when it comes to taking carers leave for sick children. While some dads are great with sick kids, most aren't. While men are equally capable of being nuturing and empathetic, current social constructs prevent them from being fully so. Further, when it comes to choosing one parent to stay home full time to raise children, it makes good economic sense to 'choose' to forgo the lower salary. That doesnt make it fair or sensible for the wife in the long term. Finally, there are numerous studies which demonstrate that all things being equal in terms of experience, resumes, education levels, answers to interview questions etc. that men will be hired over women. And when the male and female have different operating styles or decision making styles in the workplace, the male way of thinking is given higher value. Think of your team morning tea events. Has any male member of your team ever been asked to do the shopping and food preparation for your teams morning tea? Certainly they are never expected to do the washing up. Its a cultural bias and it is everywhere. So every time you see a male executive just realise that the woman pushing the tea trolley is most likely just as educated and just as capable.

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