Here is an article I recently published as an opinion piece for the Brisbane Times. Check it out here…or comment below!
Are women really getting paid less?
When I first came across the article on the apparent "gender pay gap doubling in a year", I couldn't believe my eyes.
However, when I stopped to think about it, the concept didn't make sense to me, particularly from a graduate point of view. In my field of engineering, salaries for graduates are set for everyone, regardless of gender. In fact, I was sure that the females in my graduate class were getting the higher salaries! Where then was this information coming from?
A quick investigation showed there was a misinterpretation of the Australian government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency's report. There was, in fact, no actual change in percentage of difference since last year which remained at 3 per cent (WEGA, 2012).
However, a difference of 3 per cent is still a discernible inequality. Why does this gap exist? It cannot be that employers are actively paying women less. We are in the 21st century, after all.
It would seem that the view that the WEGA report is taking is a macro view, one of graduates generally, as opposed to the micro perspectives of men and women in particular fields. For example, males are clearly overrepresented in fields such as construction (88 per cent), mining (85 per cent), and manufacturing (75 per cent), according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Females on the other hand, are overrepresented in the social services; Health care and social assistance employs 78 per cent females, education and training 70 per cent, and 56 per cent in retail trade. Furthermore, ABS data shows 76 per cent of those in clerical and administration are females. It is no secret that the fields of mining and construction pay more than health care and education.
So it isn't that employers are paying women differently, it is that there are more females in the lower paying roles and industries.
Is this something that needs to be changed? Perhaps, and it raises questions about social bias, work-life balance, gendered roles in society and possible disadvantages within the workforce.
Personally, I don't think there is a systemic disadvantage to women, especially not at the graduate level. There are plenty of equality acts and antidiscrimination laws to protect the rights of almost any group in the workforce, particularly women. However, there are definitely social biases that play a part.
Engineering, for example, still has extremely low rates of female participation; not because women are less capable, but because girls don't always see it as a natural option (I am still approached by high school girls who say "I'm considering engineering, but isn't that a guy's job?").
Compounding this, the social industries (that have an overrepresentation of women) have lower income levels than technical roles. Does society undervalue our 'caring' roles, or is it just a case of different jobs deserve different pay levels?
From a long term career perspective, there are numerous studies that indicate women don't find themselves in the pipeline to leadership due to a variety of reasons. For instance, men hold 2148 crucial line positions in the ASX 500; women hold 141 similar positions. (Australian Census of Women in Leadership, 2012).
So not only does a gap exist at the graduate level, it compounds exponentially throughout the progression of a career.
The question of the pay gap or women's participation and influence in the workforce isn't going to be solved overnight. It is clear that although there have been great inroads made into women's equality of opportunity in the workforce; a discrepancy still exists at a macro level.
If we want to achieve true equality of outcome, as a society we need to think of more effective ways of unlocking the potential in half our population.
So what do you think?