Cultural stigma holds workplaces back as pay gap falls

Maeve Bannister |

Australian women earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn, with an annual pay gap of $26,393.
Australian women earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn, with an annual pay gap of $26,393.

Australia’s gender pay gap has had its biggest single-year drop in almost a decade, but women are still earning much less than their male colleagues. 

In its annual update, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) revealed the average total gender pay gap this year had dropped to 21.7 per cent from 22.8 per cent in 2022. 

It means, on average, Australian women earn 78 cents for every dollar men earn, with an annual pay gap of $26,393. 

Every industry and almost three in four employers still have gender pay gap larger than five per cent in favour of men. 

Workers carrying documents walk down Martin Place, Sydney,
Having more women in leadership and management roles is slowly closing the gender pay gap. (Angela Brkic/AAP PHOTOS)

WGEA chief executive Mary Wooldridge said the latest results were largely driven by an increase in the proportion of women in senior management roles and the corresponding pay increases. 

Increased discussion and debate about workplace equality may also have contributed to a reduction in the gap, she said on Tuesday.

“We can’t take it for granted that this trend will continue and it definitely needs further action,” she said. 

“We are seeing more women in leadership and management roles and we are seeing some of those pay differentials being reduced. 

“That’s a start but it’s not the full solution, and we really need to recalibrate composition across jobs and occupations at all levels.”

There are still approximately 50 per cent more women than men in the lowest pay quarters and double the numbers of men than women in the highest, the agency found.

Workers at the Modern Baking Company factory in Melbourne
There are about 50 per cent more women than men in the lowest pay bracket. (Julian Smith/AAP PHOTOS)

While women in full-time roles had opportunities to progress into higher-paying management roles, the trend was not translating to other work arrangements.

“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.  

Despite an increase in employers offering paid parental leave, there was a small shift – from 13.4 to 14 per cent – in what was being taken by men.

Ms Wooldridge said this indicated policy changes needed to be accompanied by cultural improvements to remove negative stigmas that could stop people taking advantage of care opportunities.

“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,” she 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 agency calculates the pay gap based on base salaries plus bonuses, additional payments, full-time and annualised part-time casual workers. 

From early-next year, it will begin to publish the gender pay gap within organisations of more than 100 staff.

AAP