Gender pay gap shrinks, but it’s still worth $26,000 a year

WGEA chief Mary Wooldridge says progress on the gender pay gap is positive, but slow.

WGEA chief Mary Wooldridge says progress on the gender pay gap is positive, but slow.

Australia’s gender pay gap has decreased over the past year, but it’s still worth tens of thousands of dollars on average as stubborn inequalities persist, particularly for women who work part-time.

Data published by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) on Tuesday revealed a 21.7 per cent gap between average earnings for men and women in 2023, down 1.1 percentage points.

It’s the second biggest single-year drop since WGEA began tracking the gap in 2014, driven by an increase in women in management and leadership roles – though not at the very top level.

The gender pay gap (based on total remuneration) has dropped from almost 30 per cent in 2013-14, but every industry and almost three in four workers still have a gap larger than 5 per cent in favour of men.

WGEA chief Mary Wooldridge said it shows Australian workplaces are changing, albeit slowly.

“Increased discussion and debate around gender equality, a tight labour market and impending legislative reform have helped drive action on workplace gender equality,” she said.

“We see an increase in the proportion of women in management and at the upper pay quartiles, and we also see the proportion of women being promoted and appointed at manager level is higher than the proportion of women managers overall.”

Source: WGEA (click to enlarge).

Huge gap at work

But the difference between average earnings for men and women is still stark – worth about $26,393 on an annual basis, meaning women earn just 78 cents for every dollar that men earn.

This partly reflects pay rates in industries dominated by female workers, particularly industries like early childhood education where low pay rates have sparked calls for improved funding.

But the gap is also evident at the highest levels of big Australian firms.

For example, the difference in pay between male and female executives was $74,876 on average in 2023 and $45,409 for senior managers.

A massive gap also exists in blue collar occupations like technicians and trade workers ($34,093) and among machinery operators and drivers ($13,994).

And while 42 per cent of managers are now women (up from 41 per cent last year), Wooldridge said those who are working part-time aren’t being afforded the same opportunities as other staff.

“The management opportunities for part-time employees are negligible; the number of men taking paid primary carer parental leave has barely shifted; and the number of women in CEO roles and on boards has stagnated,” she said.

One key issue is that while the majority of women in the workforce (57 per cent) are part-time, just 7 per cent of all management roles are part-time, meaning many women are unable to acquire these jobs.

That’s despite 84 per cent of employers having a flexible work policy more broadly, though while 63 per cent of employers offer paid parental leave only a third offer it equally across genders.

“We need to make sure that both men and women feel that they can take parental leave, they can return to work and that they are not inhibited in the workplace by trying to balance parental responsibilities,” Wooldridge said.

“That’s done by demonstrating for people who take it that you can get promoted while you’re on parental leave.

“That it’s counted as part of your service and it’s something that is part of the normal course of life rather than something that takes you off your career trajectory.”

The WGEA report is based on data from millions of firms over the past year, though 45 per cent of businesses still do not undertake payroll analysis to determine what their gender pay gap is.

And among those firms that do about 40 per cent don’t take any action afterwards, with only 7 per cent of companies reporting their findings externally to agencies like WGEA.

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