Women and Inequality in the Workplace
By Fran Orman
It’s 2019 and the experiences of women in the workforce are still significantly different to their male counterparts. Gender pay gaps, glass ceilings and sticky floors are still a regular occurrence for most women at work. In this landscape it becomes hard to imagine a job where an individual’s experience is not dependent on their gender. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) Australia’s national gender pay gap is currently at 14.1%. Though this is the lowest it’s been for the past two decades, the WGEA says “every industry had a pay gap favouring men, even female dominated industries.” Furthermore, the full-time total remuneration gender pay gap highlights men working full-time earn nearly $25, 717 a year more than women working full-time (WGEA, 2018). The statistics are alarming and more than enough to inspire a call for action. But what causes an advanced country, like Australia, to be so retrospect on an issue that affects so many Australians? That is our mothers, our wives, our sisters, our daughters and family structures dependent on female participation. What are the factors that influence the gender pay gap?
1. Women take on a disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work
The 2016 Census revealed “a typical Australian woman spends between five and fourteen hours a week doing unpaid domestic work, while the typical Australian man spends less than five hours a week.” Time spent by women in the domestic setting limits their opportunity to participate and earn in the workforce. Undoubtedly, there has been a demise in the male breadwinner ideology that has allowed female participation to flourish. Traditionally a man’s role was to provide for his family, whilst the woman looked after the children and did the cooking and cleaning. Paid parental leave available for both sexes as well as flexible working arrangements have helped to accommodate a work-life balance for women.
2. Female dominated industries tend to attract lower wages
Industries that women are traditionally attracted to, like healthcare, education, human resources and administration, tend to be paid less. Whilst women are often segregated to these professions, men tend to dominate higher paying fields of work such as engineering, mining and finance. Gaps in women’s professional and skill development caused by domestic duties sometime prevent women from entering higher waged roles. Despite this, it is not all gloom for Australians. Research by the Grattan Institute suggests more females than males are studying at universities across Australia. Similarly, the University of Sydney has initiatives, like women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which promote female participation in traditionally male dominated industries.
3. Women’s career progression and opportunities are limited
Career breaks to have children and look after their families often hinder womens ability to progress and take promotions in the workplace. Whilst women are often faced with the decision to put their careers on hold, men are afforded the opportunity to continue their development uninterrupted. This can have serious consequences for earnings over a woman’s lifetime and retirement, with women receiving almost 20% less in superannuation contribution per year than men (WGEA). Likewise, glass ceilings still exist. They illustrate the fact that some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of a woman heading a company. Affirmative actions, like female quotas, have been implemented in groups including Westpac and the Labor Party. However, the use of quotas as a solution to addressing the lack of women in higher positions is something perhaps a little too manufactured and forced.
It can be hard to believe that so many of these inequalities have become synonymous with being a woman in the workforce. But this is the landscape we now live in. To achieve more equality in the workforce structural and cultural changes within organisations, society and the way individuals perceive female work participation is needed. Until than an individual’s experience within the workforce remains very much dependent on their gender.