You may not have circled it in your calendar, but August 28 was a big day for the women of Australia.
That’s the date set aside each year to officially mark Equal Pay Day. Sounds positive enough, but before you pop the champagne cork and postulate how far we’ve come, it pays to drill a little deeper.
The reason August 28 is Equal Pay Day is because it marks the extra 59 days beyond the end of the financial year that it takes women to earn the same as their male counterparts.
And this year courtesy of a Covid-inspired recession, women may be set to go backwards.
Australia’s national gender pay gap currently sits at 14 per cent, meaning men on average earn 14 per cent more than women.
In cold hard cash in your pocket terms, it sees women earn about $253.6 less than men each week, and $13,187.2 less than men each year. (Ouch!)
The Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) notes the figure is an overall representation of women’s general position and doesn’t represent like for like roles.
It is also influenced by a range of factors like:
· discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions
· women and men working in different industries and different jobs, with female-dominated industries and jobs attracting lower wages
· women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work
· lack of workplace flexibility to accommodate caring and other responsibilities, especially in senior roles
· women’s greater time out of the workforce impacting career progression and opportunities.
In recent years Australia had been making pretty good progress on closing this gender-based pay gap.
In fact, in November last year it hit an all-time low of 13.9 per cent.
But two decades of tracking it highlight the fact the gender pay gap rises and falls, often in tandem with the country’s economic position.
For example, when measurement of the gap first started in 1999, it was just below 16 per cent. By 2004 it had dropped to 14.9, but rapidly rose in the period between 2007 and 2010 to above 17 per cent before jumping in 2014 to a record high of 18.9.
Since then it has been on a steady downward track to its record low of late last year.
Now, however, things might be set to take a nasty turn…
This year, of course brought an unexpected twist. As outlined recently by the Federal Government, Australia’s economy has just endured its biggest quarterly fall on record and the steepest annual plunge since the end of World War II due to Covid-19.
In the process, employment has been impacted with entire industries grinding to a halt - first nationally and now in places like Melbourne. Meanwhile, women’s employment has been particularly affected due to the prevalence of women working in sectors like hospitality and care giving roles.
And, according to economists this could see any progress made on closing the gender pay gap set back dramatically.
Ultimately, they predict it may take as much as 10 years for the gap to return to the 13.9 per cent that it was prior to the pandemic.