Dear Diary

Why Simply Being A Woman Is No Excuse For Inequity

Some things leave me lost for words. This is one of them.

Ever since Iceland’s sassy sisterhood sparked world first national legislation to mandate equal pay for women, I expected at least one Australian female politician to grab the red hot iron and champion this terminal cause.

Aside from the usual annual media outcry which invariably follows the government’s release of  updated gender inequity data, the inaction is baffling. I emerge from my blissful, self-imposed political oblivion to find out why.

First Google search, Parliament of Australia:

  • Of 224 federal politicians, 74 are women. 31 Senators, 43 Members.

More than enough collective feminine power to raise gracious hell about pay inequity, one would think.

Second Google search, Minister For Women. ‘Is Michaelia Cash a worse Minister for Women than Tony Abbott?’ screams a scathing Sydney Morning Herald headline. Determined to maintain an objective view, I resist the temptation to read the article.

Instead I opt for Michaela’s perfectly coiffed website, neatly accessorised with empowering female-friendly headlines. ‘Delivering Opportunities and Support for Australian Women’ captures my attention. I expect to read the magic words ‘pay inequity.’ To my deep dismay, not a peep.

Stubbornly High Gap

The magic words are also invisible on The Office For Women’s landing page but I beaver on and eventually locate a 2016 press release regarding the latest gender pay gap figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Says Cash, ‘The new data was encouraging but the Government’s focus on implementing policies to further reduce the stubbornly high gap is unwavering.’

Stamp your stiletto a little louder, please Ms Cash. We don’t need any more namby-pamby best practice policies. Australia needs gender pay equity enshrined in law.

Another glossy government publication catches my eye. The 2017 Gender Equity Insights Report.

In a nutshell:

  • The overall gender pay gap is 17.7% (or $16,219).
  • The total remuneration pay gap is 23.1% (or $26,853.)
  • A pay chasm of $93K+ exists at top-tier managerial levels.

The placidly positive Foreword by Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director, Libby Lyons opens with: ‘It really is time that we challenge the way we work.’

While it’s great to see a woman at the helm, couldn’t she have chosen more empowering words? Something like:

‘It’s time to draft a pay equity bill that makes it illegal in Australia’s public and private sectors to pay women less than men.’

Are the mindsets of Icelandic and Australian women really that different? Aren’t we all part of a greater sisterhood? Could the female inaction have something to do with plump parliamentary salaries, I ponder. Michaelia’s goldmine hovers around the $350,000 mark (plus expenses) while the base salary of Australian backbenchers has just risen to $203,020. (While I am unable to determine if a male in Michaela’s shoes would receive a higher salary, note the equal pay for all backbenchers.)

I don’t begrudge anyone who earns top dollar but given that the core function of a politician is to represent the people, so why does Australia still have a ‘stubbornly high’ pay gap.

Docility Rather Than Merit?

Further digging unearths an insightful ABC News Opinion piece about the under-representation of women in parliament, penned by Dr Rae Cooper & Sally Hanna Osborne, University of Sydney Business School.

The most intriguing political education is found in the rabble-rousing comments section. Ponder this:

  • Female candidates are ‘selected by parties for docility rather than merit.’
  • ‘Parties generally select candidates based on internal party politics.’
  • ‘The Coalition parties do not have a mechanism for increasing women’s participation, despite ongoing advocacy by women on the floor of conferences to address the problem.’

Where have I been?

I also learn that Vote Compass data shows the majority of Australian men oppose using quotas to increase numbers of women in Parliament:

  • 22% men agree, 56% disagree.
  • 49% women agree, 29% women disagree.

How disappointing. I thought men had more faith in great Australian females. Another fizzer is Australia’s ranking in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s World Classification of Women in National Parliaments:

  • As of 2nd July 2016, Australia ranks 49 of 193 countries.
  • The top five rankings are Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Iceland, Nicaragua.

Interesting to note that post-genocide Rwanda is the first parliament in the world where women hold the majority primarily because they make up 70% of the surviving population.

Global Gender Gap Report

I delve a little deeper into Australia’s place on the international inequity stage and hit pay-dirt with The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report:

  • Of 144 countries listed on the Global Index, Australia ranks 46.
  • Top five countries: Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Rwanda.

Additional Australian global rankings:

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity – 42
  • Educational Attainment – 1
  • Health and Survival – 72
  • Political Empowerment – 61
  • Wage Equality for Similar Work – 60

The report also draws attention to Australia’s ‘continued existence of a gender gap in income’ and the continual decline of Australia’s ranking for women in national government. However, female representation does meet the 30% ‘critical mass’ which the United Nations regards as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making in parliament. (Iceland has 41% female representation.)

No excuse then, I muse. Perhaps the driving force behind legislative inaction is dreary, old female subservience.

Get Me Vida Goldstein On The Line

Vida who? A crash course in Australian political history teaches me that prior to 1969, legislation decreed that women be paid a minimum rate 25% less than male employees doing the same or similar work. The principle of equal pay for equal work was introduced in 1969. Almost 50 years and a string of lobby groups, government agencies,  best practice policies and a 17.7% pay gap later, little has changed.

A sense of doom suffuses my despondent soul but I doggedly dig deeper. Persistence pays off. The magic words appear in various biographies of our esteemed political pioneers:

Vida Goldstein1903, 1910, 1913, 1914 and 1917:  first woman in Australia (and the British Empire) to stand for election to a national parliament (five unsuccessful times). Campaigned for various social reforms including equal pay for equal work.

Vida Goldstein

Edith Cowan1921:  first woman to be elected to an Australian parliament (WA Legislative Assembly). Leading suffragette, pioneer of women’s and children’s rights, instigated the enacted Women’s Legal Status Act which enabled women to practice law.

Enid Lyons1943:  first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Believed that men and women should be completely equal.

Dorothy Tangney 1943:  first woman elected to the Senate. Championed equal pay and equal opportunity for women.

Ellen Violet Jordan1966: Advocated equal pay for women during a Queensland parliamentary ‘grievance session’ and managed to get a women’s toilet in the House. (Hidden Figures – The Sequel?)

Equal Pay Legislation

The primary reason why Australian women are paid less than men? According to a 2009 report by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling:

The key factor associated with the wage gap is simply being a woman. We estimate that 60 per cent of the wage gap is due to either discrimination of other factors to do with being a woman.’

Not acceptable.

While there is no shortage of government agencies to turn to if you suffer from pay discrimination, and certainly no shortage of glossy reports and feisty discussions to Google, talk is so damn cheap these days, it’s boring.

The stubbornly high pay gap clearly demonstrates the failure of namby-pamby best practice policies. Australia needs robust legislation to mandate equal pay for women in both public and private sectors. Political oblivion lets self-serving politicians get away with it. Let’s collectively wake up and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of principled ‘equal pay for equal work’, with enshrined law.

And may you draw further strength and support from the closing words of the Global Index Report:

It is our hope that this latest edition of the Report will serve as a call to action to governments to accelerate gender equality through bolder policymaking, to businesses to prioritize gender equality as a critical talent and moral imperative and to all of us to become deeply conscious of the choices we make every day that impact gender equality globally. We call upon every reader of this Report to join these efforts.”

Divine pocket-rocket sisters, including Success InSight CEO, Lia Zalums, it’s time to change our story. Let’s mirror the lead of our courageous Icelanders and exile the terminal pay inequity issue to the ‘Done Basket’ once and for all.

Linda Summer, Scribe, Lost For Words