Trevor Warden explains why focusing on pay parity alone ignores important factors in the pay equity discussion

As a teenage girl, Debbie loves all things computer related, including of course games, so during the school holidays her parents sent her on a computer programming camp. Although she loved the course it was a chilling experience for her to be the only girl in the class. The following school holidays she picked a camp in a different suburb hoping to get a better gender mix but again, she was the only girl in the program.  Whilst this experience probably won’t curb her passion for building computer games there is a real concern that she will enter the workforce in a few years having to fight hard to build a career in a male dominated industry.

Women have battled in the last decades for the choices they have today and when we consider that 70% of women of working age are in the workforce and that in Australia more females than males graduate from university, we see that they have made great strides.  But when we look at the quality of womens’ participation in the workforce, we see less reasons to celebrate. Our research of pay equity shows that women tend to work on clerical and operational jobs and in vocational areas such as administration, customer service, call-centre – areas that attract both low stability and wages. No wonder ABS data shows that almost half of women (47%) are in part-time employment (less chance of career progression and training) and 25% have casual jobs (limited or no holiday or sick leave entitlements).

Table 1: Job prevalence by job family, Paynet data


In short, there is a prevalence of woman in ‘small’ jobs. The ‘bigger’ roles and more technical and specialised jobs are dominated by men. The Australian Census of Women in Leadership shows that only 9.2% of the executives of ASX 200 are female.

The issue of female prevalence in ‘little’ jobs contributes immensely to the gender pay gap.  If you use the WGEA approach of comparing the average weekly full-time equivalent earnings (before tax, excluding factors such as overtime and pay that is salary sacrificed) of men and women you will have an average gap of 18.2%.  But when you compare equal pay for equal work (or ‘apples with apples’) - what men and women are paid for jobs of the same ‘size’, the approach adopted by - using the data from the PayNet database of 257,462 jobs from 410 organisations (2014) we obtain an average pay gap of 4.9%.

What the data is telling us is even if every man and woman were paid equally for the same work the gap would still linger because woman do not hold the jobs that brings home the biggest pay cheques. To close the gender pay gap we need to increase female participation in jobs that attract higher salaries. 

Ensuring that men and women are paid equally for the same jobs is the first step that companies can take towards a fair workplace and based on the work I do with our clients I see that most employers want to pay their workers fairly. Although this is essential, when it comes to pay equity, pay parity seems to be an issue easier to address. A much bigger challenge is to increase female participation in male dominated sectors and make senior roles more accessible for women.

Let’s take a look at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields for example. Professionals in this area tend to earn more than workers in other areas even if they hold a ‘lesser’ degree. Males represent 72 per cent of the STEM qualified population in Australia and there is a downward trend in the number of girls studying maths and science (STEM subjects) at high school.  Our PayNet data shows that women fill only 10 and 25 per cent of the roles in engineering and IT respectively.

If we compare gender participation in big jobs we see a similar picture. The PayNet database shows zero females in the four biggest job sizes and only 17 per cent of all senior managers and executives are females. And the data continues to trend in this direction.

Table 2: Job prevalence by job size, Paynet data
Job Size table

Changing strong gender stereotypes that discourage women from pursuing education and consequently jobs in certain sectors and certain roles is a task that business policies alone cannot overcome. There needs to be a cultural shift, a new societal mindset that does not stereotype roles, neither at work nor at home and encourages both men and women to achieve their potential in their field of choice.

But of course there are steps that organisations can take to improve diversity in the workplace. In my experience as a reward professional I’m seeing many organisations make head way by addressing these issues with initiatives such as:

  • Unconscious bias training
  • Mentoring of high potential women
  • Job rotation for high potential women
  • Removing bias from selection process (e.g. removing names and any sign of gender from resumes)
  • Flexible work arrangements for both men and women
  • Getting rid of the perception that women have to behave as men to succeed

I hope that as a society we are advocating for gender equality both at work and at home so that girls like Debbie and her generation will enter the workforce feeling empowered and supported to make career choices free from gender stereotypes.

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About the contributor

Trevor Warden is the Co-Lead APAC Rewards & Benefits and Work Measurement at Korn Ferry. Trevor helps organisations and people become more effective through finding job clarity, enabling them to be the best they can be and building a motivating environment for high performance. During his consulting career, which spans two continents and two decades, Trevor has worked with a wide variety of organisations. He brings with him enormous experience to help organisations review their structures, create doable jobs and develop wide ranging Employee Value Propositions.

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