A view from down under - Gender Pay Gap

What is all the hype with the gender pay gap? As a 37-year-old professional woman, building a business while working full time with 2 young children, you would think that I would be outraged by the 18.4% gender pay gap branded round the UK media or the 16.2% here in Australia; but to be quite honest, I don’t give a damn!

“Say what? How dare you speak against your fellow females’ rights...what is wrong with you?” You might hear some cry; but the fact is men and women are different...there is no denying it; it is a scientific fact (see any biology textbook). So why are we so interested in how much each of the sexes get paid? What are we trying to achieve?

The gap exists, yes; but are we focussing on the wrong thing?  Is the media hype warranted?  Lets’ consider some key issues:


1. The numbers are too general

In most cases the number that we get to see in the media is an aggregated, generalised average of every single member of the workforce in a particular country.  So that means it includes the salary of an 18 year old female nurse, the salary of a 50 year old senior male engineer and everything in between.  Of course, there is going to be a difference when you compare EVERYTHING all in the same bucket.

Now when a man and a woman are in the same role, with the same experience and the same skills, if they are paid differently, one may ask why.  But whether we like it or not, a lot of the time things are not equal and there are some professions that are more suited or favoured by women and there are some that are more suited or favoured by men.  I will add that there are many that are gender neutral as well, just for the sake of keeping the argument inclusive!

Typically, many of the professions more favoured by women pay less.  Nursing, teaching, administration, retail; and that cannot be denied.  So, if a large proportion of the female workforces included in these statistics are found in the lower paid industries, then the mathematical outcome is going to be a lower average female wage.  The argument could then move to, “well there are too many roadblocks in the way preventing women from choosing careers in higher paid industries…”

Are there?

According to The Economist’s “Glass Ceiling Index 2018”, Scandinavian countries rank top of the chart for workplace gender equality in the developed world.  The index score is calculated across a variety of factors including but not limited to educational attainment, pay, child care costs, paternity rights and representation in senior roles.  Despite this, in the Scandinavian countries women outstrip men in the nursing profession 20:1; and men outstrip women in the engineering profession 20:1.

So in a country where choice is as free as it can be for a woman, the traditionally considered female roles still attract more women despite the lower pay.  So this suggests there is more at play here.













2. The claim: it’s harder for women to get to the top than men

In my 20+ years in the labour force, I can confidently say that my career has not in any way been hindered or restricted by the fact that I am female. Some might argue that I have been lucky; others may argue that it’s alright for people like me – but to that I say “tosh!!”

I am responsible for the choices I make; and let’s be real here for a minute, as a working mum, we need to make choices every day and I am not denying that.  Have I had time out of the workforce to have children?  Yes.  Have I had a period of my career working part time while my children were small?  Yes.  Did this happen because I am a woman?  NO (well other than the time off to have a baby or 2)!  This happened because I chose it.  I chose to have children; I chose to have time out of my career and I chose to go back part time for a few years.

Does this mean it is harder for me to get to the top of my game than it is for a man?  How can I possibly answer that?  Yes, I will need to make choices; yes I will need to have priorities; yes I will need help and support; but I cannot draw the conclusion that that means it is harder for me than anyone else.

We cannot deny the numbers that there are considerably more men in c-suite positions than there are women; a fact that will contribute to the gender pay gap when all things are considered in the same bucket.  But does this support the claim that it is harder for women to get to the top?  I argue no.Instead what it supports is that women are choosing not to go for the top; so, the question becomes why that is and what do we do about that?

Now I have heard it uttered around more than one workplace that women need to hold themselves to a higher standard than men in order to succeed; or that we need to go above and beyond what a man would do in order to be noticed.  There may be some truth to this in some workplaces, as there is no denying that unconscious bias does exist; but what we women need to do is think beyond the media hype here.  General Ann E. Dunwoody is the first woman in U.S. military history to have achieved the rank of four-star general, which she received in 2008 as a member of the U.S. Army.  Now retired she advocates that it is not female leaders that need to hold themselves to a higher standard; its successful leaders, male or female.

So, I put it to you that it is not because of our gender that it is harder or easier to get to the top; it is the choice we make.  Likewise, it is not because of the gender pay gap that women hold themselves to a higher standard; but because they are choosing to be responsible for their careers and they are choosing to be successful.


3. The statement: the gender pay gap should be eradicated

What does this statement mean? That men and women should be paid the same?

But what constitutes “the same?”

We have already identified above the limitation in relying on the numbers branded around the media, so if by “the same” we are waiting for the national average median time earnings between men and women to be the same, I believe we will be waiting a very long time!

Perhaps a more important question to ask here is for what purpose do we want gender pay equality? What are we trying to achieve?

Hold tight for another shock statement...

...what if gender equality is not the right thing to be focussing on here? The dictionary definition of equality is “the state of being equal.”  We know, like it or not, that men and women are not the same, so is giving them the same pay what we actually want?  Consider the first image in the picture below. Is it not more a case of having equal opportunity and removing the blocks that may be in place in some instances for women to push forward in their careers the same way men do? Is it not therefore gender equity we should be striving for? Equity being “the quality of being fair and impartial.”

This image summarises the differences beautifully:


Ultimately this is a debate that is likely to continue for decades, as it already has.  Here in Australia there was an Equal Pay Rally held in 1957 and the Equal Pay Act came into being in 1972; yet here we still are, talking about it with a gender pay gap of over 15%.

There will always be instances where men are paid more than women; equally there will be instances where women are paid more than men.  There will also be instances where men and women in the same role will be paid the same.  This is not an issue that is going to be “fixed” by legislation to declare pay rates or National Acts dictating what each gender can be paid; this is an issue far deeper than that.  This is an issue that requires us all to dig deep and look within ourselves; this is an issue that requires us to become aware of the unconscious bias and limiting beliefs that exist in us all; this is an issue that causes us to look at how we value our worth; and this is an issue that requires us to think equitably. 

It all boils down to what we are trying to achieve; and instead of all the focus and media hype being on closing the gender pay gap, perhaps there are more important questions both employers and employees alike can be asking themselves?

How can we ensure both men and women have the same OPPORTUNITIES as each other to enable them to stay supported in a career?  What can we do?  How sure are you that gender equity exists in your workplace? 


Written by Oxen Park guest contributor Claire Markwick