Monday, 01 September 2014 04:48

Equal Pay Day: The Cost of Being a Woman

Rate this item
(2 votes)

This Friday is Equal Pay Day

This date illustrates the number of extra days women have to work after the financial year in order to earn the same amount that men earn in twelve months.  September 5  2014 commemorates the day when women’s earnings “catch up” to men’s earnings.


In 2014, men on average will earn $14,500 more than a woman, who will have to work 66 days more to earn it.

We mark this day as a way of drawing attention to the Gender Pay Gap

the Gender Pay Gap:  Is it still true?  Yes and. it is getting worse.

For almost two decades, the pay gap between men and women in Australia has remained around 17.5% - that is, for every average dollar earned by a man, a woman earns 82.5 cents.

 However, this year, the pay gap between men and women's wages is 18.2%, which is nearly 1% worse than 2013, and is the worst in 20 years.

 Gender Pay Gaps per Industry

The Gender Pay Gap varies per industry.  The financial and insurance services industry had the highest gender pay gap (31.9%) followed by health care and social assistance (31.7%) although women accounted for nearly three quarters of this industry.  For the education sector the gender pay gap is 11.5%.[1]

 This persistent disparity in pay between Australian men and women is the key factor contributing to women’s financial disadvantage compared to men.

But Isn’t just a matter of Choice for Women?

There is much public debate about the role of “choice” when it comes to women and work in Australia.  Often we hear how women choose to work in a particular industry or how they can just “move to a better paying job”.

 But structural factors play a strong role in shaping the labour market experience of women.

 Factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include:

  • Women and men working in different industries and different jobs. Female dominated industries and jobs have attracted lower wages than male dominated industries and jobs
  • Women are more likely than men to work part time or flexibly because they still undertake most of society’s unpaid caring work
  • The lack of women in senior positions roles.  In fact, the proportion of leadership roles in schools held by women does not reflect the proportion of women on staff.  While 81% of primary staff are women, only 57% of leadership positions are held by women. In secondary schools, it is worse.  Only 49% of leadership positions are held by women [2]
  • The resistance of employers to provide quality part time or flexible senior leadership positions
  • Women’s more precarious attachment to the workforce (largely due to their unpaid caring responsibilities.

The cost of being a woman

So the Gender Pay Gap is influenced by a number of interrelated work, family, and societal factors including stereotypes about the work women and men ‘should do” and the way women and men “should engage in the workforce”.

 Indeed, “simply being a woman” – that is the discrimination or other factors related to being a woman – is the main contributing factor to the gender pay gap.

 According to research conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling in 2009[3] into the impact of the gender pay gap on the economy, “simply being a woman” accounted for 60% of the difference between women and men’s earnings. This report outweighed the effects of industry segregation.  The cost of ‘being a woman” can be seen in the penalties women experience in the workplace when they are pregnant and again when they return to work after birth of their child.

Discrimination in the Work Place:  A real experience

The Australian Human Rights Commission Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review 2014 found evidence that pregnancy and return to work discrimination is widespread in our workplaces. 

 In fact, one in two mothers reported experiencing discrimination at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

In the IEU submission to the AHRC report, IEU members reported that they were denied access to flexible work arrangements, in some cases being forced to resign from their position. Other members were unlikely to regain their formal earning capacity as they were denied access to leadership positions.

 Research has shown that 70% of women returning from parental leave opt to work part time and that a woman returning from on year of maternity leave can expect a five% decrease in earnings compared to before going on leave.  A three year gap will result in a fall in earnings of over 10%.

 Accumulated Poverty in Retirement

The current superannuation scheme effectively takes the gendered income inequalities that exist during people’s working lives and magnifies them in retirement.

 The AHRC report has shown that the average superannuation payouts to women are just over half that of men (57%) with many women having little or no superannuation.[4]

 This is despite more women participating in the paid workforce than ever before.

 There are significant implications arising from this entrenched gender pay inequality.  The failure to redress the financial disadvantage of women will result in ongoing dependence on the aged pension. As women live longer than men and re more likely to rely on the aged pension as their sole source of income in retirement, the need for effective policy solutions is pressing.

Challenging the Stereotype

It is time to challenge the perception of the ideal worker and turn around the pay equity gap.

Women who still bear the bulk of responsibility for caring, simply do not fit into the employer concept of the ideal (full time) worker.

The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and could vanish altogether if workplaces did not disproportionately reward individuals who laboured long hours and worked full time employment.

In fact, the gender pay gap is smallest in industries where work can be done flexibly and shared among employees.

In these workplaces, workplace flexibility is seen as a workplace benefit, not a hindrance.  Such employers are able to safeguard the skills of half of their workforce, reshaping jobs to ensure that women workers are able to keep contributing.

Let’s get the men involved.  right to access Flexible working Arrangements for all


No one is happy when men are slaves to work and women are slaves to the caring for children and elderly.


Greater flexibility at work would deliver fathers more time with their families and women more time to advance their careers and contribute to the economy.


It is time that employers embrace the benefits which flexible working arrangements provide to school and centre communities and implement them more readily.


 The IEU Flexible Working Arrangement Guide aims to assist IEU members in accessing flexible working arrangements at their workplace.  This Guide is available on the IEU website.


A failure to achieve good quality flexible working arrangements will result in entrenching pay inequity for generations of women. 



[1] WGEA 2013)

[2] ABS 2006

[3] Cassells,R;Vidyattamay Mirant R; McNamara (2009) The impact of the sustained gender wage gap on Australian economy.

[4] AHRC; Accumulating Povery; Women’s Experience over Lifetime (2009)


Last modified on Monday, 01 September 2014 05:10