Significant pay gap, women missing from management: New figures show gender inequality in business

Australian workplaces have produced disappointing results when it comes to gender equality, according to new research.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has released its biggest ever set of standardised data on employers' gender equality performance, and the results show that workplaces need to do much more.

The data was collected from over 11,000 employers across 19 different industries, covering a total of 3.9 million employees.

The pay gap in the WGEA's reporting population is 19.9% - higher than the national average. Women's representation drops off drastically in senior management positions – women only make up 26.1% of key management positions and only 17.3% of CEOs.

Only 13.6% of employers have a strategy for flexible work. As a result, women make up 75.3% of part-time employees.

WGEA director Helen Conway told Women's Agenda these poor results relate to the combined impact of cultural and structural biases in the workplace.

"Many organisations have cultural problems with gender bias. We live in a society that holds on to gender stereotypes – there are still expectations about what women will and won't do in society, which seeps into our workplaces. For example, employers often assume that women who return from maternity leave don't want to move up the management ranks," she said.

"These cultural biases lead employers to make assumptions about what women want in the workplace without having that conversation with their female employees."

Conway said the major structural problem that stems from these biases is lack of flexibility at work.

"Very few people in top management positions are offered any flexibility at work, and so very few of these positions are held by women. When we redesign jobs to allow flexibility for employees in caring roles, we will see more women at the top of the ladder."

Conway said the lack of flexibility impacts all three major issues identified by the study: the gender pay gap, the lack of women in senior leadership positions and the overrepresentation of women in part-time work.

Despite these disappointing results, less than a quarter of employers have conducted pay gap analyses. Only 7.1% of employers have standalone gender equality strategies.

In response to these low levels of awareness about organisations' own gender equality performance, the WGEA has developed a toolkit for employers to analyse and improve their performance.

"The toolkit is a full roadmap for employers – it shows them how to diagnose the key issues for them in terms of gender equality, how to perform better in these areas and then how to review their progress."

Conway said that while the resources provided by the WGEA will be helpful in promoting workplace gender equality, the study itself will also help keep employers accountable.

If organisations do not use the resources available to them to increase gender equality in the workplace, they will be judged harshly when the study is conducted again next year.
"There is great power in transparency. Now everyone will be able to see which organisations are taking action on gender inequality and which aren't. We hope that people will start making more informed decisions when choosing employers, as they will be able to see exactly how seriously their employer takes gender equality," she said.

"There is no silver bullet when it comes to workplace equality, but once there is transparency we can see exactly which employers are taking up the challenge and taking positive steps - and which ones aren't."

Other key findings

- One in three employers have no women in key management positions

- 31.3% of organisations have no female executives

- Only 23.7 of board directors are female, and only 12% of chairs

- Despite this, only one in ten employers have made efforts to lift female representation on their boards

- Only 13.2% of employers have a strategy to support employees in family or caring roles

- Of the 48.5% of the female reporting population, over half are casual or part time workers

- Only one in four employees in the top three management positions are female

- The finance and insurance services industry reported the biggest pay gap at 36.1%

- Only 18.1% of employers have a pay equity strategy

- Only 7% of employers have a strategy to prevent sex based discrimination in the workplace

Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist and producer at Women's Agenda.

Twitter: @LuciaOC_

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