The gender pay gap remains entrenched above 17 percent despite 45 years of legislation dictating equal pay for equal work in Australia.
The gender pay gap remains entrenched above 17 percent despite 45 years of legislation dictating equal pay for equal work in Australia. Admittedly the difference in pay between men and women has decreased over that period from between 25 and 30 percent in the late 1960s to today’s figure of 17.1 percent, but a recent report by Oxfam entitled ‘The G20 and Gender Equality’ suggests at this rate of progress it will be 75 years before pay equality can be achieved in this country. This assumes progress is linear, and the value placed on the contribution made by women in the workforce remains vulnerable to financial pressures over that of men. The Global Financial Crisis facilitated an increase in the gender pay gap up to its current level from a 15 percent low in 2005. Business continues to ignore the economic arguments that document the potential delivery of $5.4 billion growth to GDP by the reduction of the gender pay gap by one percent and up to $9.3 billion by its total elimination. Efforts to really understand the gap’s causes creating little real change in the way workplaces are organised, work undertaken or the way work is valued. The old adage, ‘If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ suggests maybe it is time for something more revolutionary than government policy and legislated compliance. The role of work in most G20 economies is still enmeshed in a mid 19th century construct, which demanded attendance at work for particular lengths of time between particular hours, with conditions designed to control for maximum production. The industrial revolution changed work from something woven into a life of seasons, family and survival, to a separate place of commitment, strict order and compliance. Control of time was given up to the role and place of employment, and such order demanded care of children and household demands to be regarded separately. Division of labour between genders became more marked, and men thrived in a workplace that rewarded their contribution with money and, at many levels, excluded women. Men were inevitably more visible in the leadership roles they held, while women accessing education and training in pursuit of the same were dependent on a combination of access to opportunity and sacrifice of parenthood to a career. Modern technology allows us many ways to redesign the way we approach the tasks we construct and call work, which can benefit gender equality in the workplace in entirely new ways. Men and women can complete these tasks from their homes, at times that accommodate the needs of their children and demands of other dependents. We no longer have to be at work between the hours of nine and five, and flexibility does not need to be something added on to the way we work, but can become the way we work. Prescriptive competencies can define what we need to know to be competent in a task, and increasingly precise ways to measure work can inform an employer of your contribution, regardless of the timetable kept. Challenges to the sanctity of the weekend as a time where work should be considered an exception and valued accordingly are already occurring with awards negotiating penalty rates for weekend work and giving other rewards back to the workforce in industries that can benefit. A woman equally committed to both job and family can potentially meet their respective demands. She can organise time to be present at the school gate and the office with a negotiated approach to essential tasks. Emails already get checked at the football match, video conferencing and webinars create virtual space without need for presence, and file sharing allows collaboration between parties at different times. With work and life less separated by industrial constructs of the workplace and hours of work, integration of priorities can be better achieved. More importantly, this can also be so for a man. Through this, greater sharing of life’s responsibilities can occur, with work returning to its place as part of living, not something separate and excluding. Rather than assessment by visibility in the workplace, artificial measurements of commitment through apparent availability, and other barriers that have somehow justified women not being paid as much as men, we can all be measured appropriately by what we achieve whenever or wherever that is. Embracing technology and the virtual office could generate the revolution needed to ensure women do not continue to experience unequal rewards for their contribution to the workplace for the next 75 years and, perhaps, help us achieve that $9.3 billion boost to the economy. Liz Forsyth, YWCA of Adelaide Chief Executive YWCA of Adelaide is holding a Bid for Equality Equal Pay Day Handbag Auction, which features the donated handbags of more than 50 women. The online Handbag Auction will close on Saturday, September 6 during a party in Gays Arcade where all of the bags will be on display. Head to ywca.com.au for more information.