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In conversation with Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director Libby Lyons and Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly for Equal Pay Day 2020

August 28, 2020 / Our Watch media team

In the lead up to Equal Pay Day 2020, Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director Libby Lyons sat down with Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly to discuss Australia's Gender Pay Gap, its relationship to violence against women, and how we must all #KeepMindingTheGap.


I think the important thing to understand is that there are two different things here. There’s equal pay, and there’s the gender pay gap. And equal pay is something that women won the right to in Australia over 50 years ago. And equal pay means that if you are working in a… If you are working, you are entitled, under the law, to be paid the same amount as a man, if you were doing a job of an equal or comparable value. So we need to make that distinction, because lots and lots of people get very confused between equal pay and the gender pay gap. So equal pay is the legal right for women and men to be paid the same for doing a job, the same job, or a job of comparable value. And if employers are not meeting that requirement, then they are not meeting their legal obligation. So that’s clear. Unfortunately, we know that employers are still not meeting their legal obligation to pay women and men the same for doing a job of the same or comparable value. And of course, that is one of the factors that leads into the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is something different.

You know, as I said, is different to equal pay. The gender pay gap measures the difference between the average earnings of women and men in the workforce. And it measures it over an organisation, across an industry, or across the nation as a whole. And there are lots of different factors that feed in to the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap is there for many reasons. For instance, a lack of women in senior roles feeds into the gender pay gap. The fact that women are discriminated against when it comes to recruitment and promotion, and pay increases feed into the gender pay gap. The fact that women spend more time out of the workforce to care for family, feeds into the gender pay gap. The fact that women do more of the unpaid care and domestic work in Australia feeds into the gender pay gap. The fact that female dominated industries and roles are paid and valued less than male dominated industries and roles, these are all factors that feed into the gender pay gap. So the gender pay gap is a concept where we look, as I said, at the average earnings of women and men and we compare them against one another across an organisation, an industry, or the nation. And then there’s equal pay, which is the legal obligation for employers to pay women and men the same.

That’s an awesome definition Libby, thank you. I think one of the key things about the gender pay gap is that it creates an unequal society. So as Libby said, there’s female dominated industries that are not paid, or they’re paid significantly less than male dominated industries, such as mining and construction, for example. So this suggests as a society, we actually value these female industries less. And COVID-19 has just shown us actually how important these industries are. So when women earn less, we know they don’t have the same financial independence or economic security than men do. And that also limits the choices that they have. So for some women that limits their ability to leave a violent relationship, for example. So when we have this pattern of unequal pay across the society, there are broad repercussions, and for example, it impacts on the choices that a couple might make. So a typical heterosexual couple might for example say that the woman will take time off work to care for older people or children, because she is paid less. So it makes sense. But actually that conversation has been created by the fact that she hasn’t been paid as well in the first place. And of course, we know there’s long term issues, such as the superannuation gap with women, at times I think something like 90,000 less than men. And women over 55 being the fastest growing group entering into homelessness. And that’s just a really shocking statistic for all Australians to consider.

I think it’s a really core indictment on Australia as a whole that we have this situation where, you know, women who have given up so much of their lives to care, to also try and work, to juggle all of those different things, are retiring into poverty is really a national disgrace. And I think the other thing that we need to think about here as well, is that for as long as we don’t have the senior ranks in management levels reflecting the demographic of the communities in which we live, we are not going to see women promoted, we are not going to see the work that women do be valued as much as the work that men do. So, you know, the solution to this problem is a cultural one. And it’s not something that’s going to change overnight, but it’s something we really, really have to work at. And I think Patty, going back to one of your points about female dominated industries, it’s really interesting to note that you need the same educational attainment to be an early childhood educator, as you need to be a car mechanic. And yet, car mechanics are paid a lot more than early childhood educators. And it’s one of these conundrums in life that I just simply cannot understand, how we got to a point where we value our cars more than we value our children. And I think that point always, it’s a very poignant point for me personally, that we are now in 2020, and this is the situation. This is life, as we see it today.

Your example is a fabulous one, Libby. And the pay gap tells us we’ve still got so far to go to reach gender equality. You know the way we value work is really the way we value people in this country and at present every man and woman or child understands that women’s work is valued less than men and so therefore we value women less than men, and that’s actually not the foundation for healthy society at all. And from our work in preventing violence against women, we know that where people value women less, where there’s discrimination, and derogatory statements and the blocking of women being able to thrive, that environment actually promotes, or is one that creates an increase in violence against women. So this is not just a matter of, we want women to be paid better, this is an actual underpinning piece of a healthy community.

And of course the other issue there Petty is that if women are not financially independent, if women are not being able to earn their own money and decide how they wish to spend their own money, they cannot get away from violent and situations. They’re stuck because they simply do not have the financial means to walk away. And this is another, you know, vital reason that we have to ensure that everybody is valued for the work that they do, but also that everybody has the opportunity to engage in the workforce if they choose. Now, not everybody wants to choose to, once they have children to reengage in the workforce or to decide that they wanna have a career. That’s okay. We’re not saying you have to, but what we’re saying here is that we wanna level playing field so that women and men have equal choice to work and to a career, if that’s what they choose and if that’s what suits their personal circumstances.

Yeah, that’s an excellent point Libby and just make sense. There’s nothing about what you’re saying that doesn’t make sense. And unfortunately we know that the link between the pay gap and violence is actually one that we can draw quite strongly as well cause we know that gender inequality in our culture and across at work actually provides an underlying condition for the gender violence. So the gender pay gap is one of the symptoms of that inequality across our community. So the evidence shows us that if we, the gender drivers of violence against, one of the gender drivers of violence against women is men’s control of decision making and limiting women’s independence. So the gender pay gap, we’re seeing that playing out. At work, we’re limiting women’s economic independence and autonomy as you suggested and limiting their access to economic resources and in private life, we actually see applying it to through men limiting women’s control of finances and independence. So fixing the gender pay gap is not just about women being able to have choice, it is absolutely that, but it is about normalizing gender equality in society and over time, preventing violence against women. It’s just vital.

And I think the thing that probably concerns you as much as me at the moment is that the whole COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that have been placed on all of us across Australia, but particularly Victorians still at the moment is that, it is highlighting the discrimination and the bias and the issues that women have in terms of the work that they can choose to do, or the work that they really are forced to do because they have no other options, and the fact that whatever happens from here on in, we need to ensure that women absolutely have the option to reengage in the workforce at, in exactly the same way or in an equal manner to men because we know for instance, from the GFC that, the gender pay gap dropped two percentage points over two years, the period of the GFC, it took us 10 years to, to claw back those two percentage points again. 10 years, we cannot allow that to happen.

And yet all the signs are pointing to the fact that it may well happen. We’ve seen women’s workforce participation over the pandemic period so from March through to June has dropped by 1.5 percentage points. Again, clawing back those percentage points takes time and effort and concentration and my worry is that throughout all of this we’re going to move backwards, in terms of the gains that we’ve made, we’re going to lose them and we’re going to lose them very quickly and we cannot allow that to happen. We have to keep, we have to keep highlighting the problems. We have to keep pointing out the things that aren’t being done well, we have to keep driving creative solutions, and we simply have to keep our foot on the pedal. Employers have a role to play here, government has a role to play here, and as individuals we have a role to play here as well.

Yeah, and you’re right Libby, COVID-19 actually presents us with an opportunity that the economic stimulus packages that are being rolled out if we applied a gendered lens to them to make sure that they don’t inadvertently disproportionately preference man’s employment and economic security over women. And there’s such simple things that can be happening right now to advance gender equality, you know, we could be looking at procurement policies that make sure that there’s gender equality and employment for major infrastructure projects that are being announced. We can make sure that industrial reforms are taking place about women’s rights at work, about part time work and secure employment. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the opportunities that workplaces have. There are so many products and we’ve just got one called workplace equality and respect that supports workplaces to set up an environment where they’re promoting gender equality, to make sure that as they rebuild their organization, they’re looking at their data and looking at where to have the opportunity to bring more women back, or are they bringing more men backs than women.
So it’s, I think we’ve got to do more our decision makers, whether that’s government or people in leadership roles, especially in, you know, in relation to boards and so forth, they’ve got to do more than just think it’s a good thing to do, they’ve actually got to act. Libby we work with people all the time that have incredible influence in their roles, in their professional roles. What we need to do is for people to apply that influence in meaningful and active ways, because we know that intelligence and work ethic and innovation is equally located between women and men and yet we put these barriers in place… that we are not getting the best from half of our community. In a country like ours where we talk about a fair go, it’s actually not playing out that way. There’s this disconnect – and I can’t think of a reason other than discrimination that it’s not happening. And I think if we talk to our leaders, they’ll say, No, no, we don’t discriminate against women.” We need them to take a look at the data, take a look at the situation, and actually take really positive action.

This isn’t just about the right thing to do. This is actually the smart thing to do. And the Workplace Gender Equality Agency in collaboration with Bankwest Curtin Economic Centre, in June this year, released the fifth of five reports that we’ve been doing with them over five years where they have taken our dataset and done some deep dives into that data to find relationships between company performance and increasing women in management roles. And the last one in June revealed some absolutely staggering causal relationship between increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles and on boards and company performance, productivity, and profitability. And just one stat I’ll throw at you is looking at the ASX listed companies, for an average organisation that had a female CEO, there was a five percentage point increase in profitability for the average ASX company which equated to nearly $98 million for that average ASX company.
Now, you know, as a senior leader in an organisation or as a board member in an organisation, if you are not acting on achieving better gender equality outcomes in your senior leadership team, then you are ignoring your fiduciary duty to your owners and your shareholders because the hard evidence is there. And this is the first time too that we believe there has been this strong causal relationship found between the two in the world. We looked long and hard, but using your longitudinal dataset, this is the first time we found this very strong causal relationship. So the evidence is there – what more do employers want? I struggle to know what more that they want because I’m telling you now, if I was a senior leader running an organisation, I’d be acting pretty jolly quickly cause I’d have the competitive edge over my rivals in very short-order time if I started my gender equality journey and pushed it hard.

We spend so much time in workplaces and organisations looking for competitive advantage, and we look at supply chains and the structure of organisation in all of these different ways, and yet five percentage points staring us in the face. And it’s easily accessible – it’s right there in front of us. We’ve got the ability to do it, so I just think we have to really be challenging leaders. And I love the way — those reports have been really powerful. I’ve been using them all the time in a lot of the presentations and the talks I’m doing because it’s just hard data, and it actually makes it… makes a person irresponsible in their responsibilities as a leader. I think the other thing to just bring up, Libby, is the acknowledgement that women are not an homogeneous group. And so we know that there are some women across our community that face multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination.

And in terms of the workplace, things like race or class or background, migration status, all have an impact on a woman’s ability to be in a workforce in a meaningful way, and so I think we really need to also pay attention to that – those women often end up either not being employed or in lower-paid roles. And so the cycle goes back to they have less choice. They have less ability to contribute to the community. They are more likely to end up in poverty. They are more likely to end up homeless, in homeless situation. So I think it’s just important as we challenge our leaders and governments to take… to apply gendered lens, to be thinking really positively and proactively about how to get more women into the workforce. They also spend some particular attention doing a deep dive on the groups that have multiple forms of discrimination at play.

I think you’re absolutely right, Patty, because I think what we all want is we want workplaces that mirror the communities in which we live. And our communities are not homogeneous by any stretch of the imagination. And I think too, that we would see less of these issues that we’ve been seeing lately around the appointment of people in senior roles who their track record isn’t altogether great in terms of the way that they have treated other employees in their workplaces. I think that if we have boards that better mirrored the communities in which we live, if we had better senior leadership teams that better mirrored the communities in which we live, we would have fewer of these problems because the minute you bring diversity to a table, the minute you bring an understanding of how the community thinks, an understanding of different ways of operating, you bring more creativity to the table and you’re simply bringing a wealth of views and experience and skills to the table that actually make for far better decision making. And so, the benefits of having a diverse workforce, a diverse board table, are just huge. And again, to me it comes down to common sense. But for as long as we have white, middle-aged men being dominant on the boards of our organisations and in the senior leadership roles in our organisations and across government, we are not going to see that diversity around the decision-making table that we need in a hurry – and to be frank, I’m running out of patience here – I wanna see more action. I’m not getting any younger, and I’m only in this job for a short period of time, and I need to see more action. And I need to see it quicker and I think that over the course of this pandemic we have proven in Australia that we can be agile and we can make structural changes overnight, so let’s be a bit brave. Let’s be a bit creative and let’s start making some of these structural changes that we need. It starts with me you know, all of these things start with me as an individual. If I make a decision that I am going to change in some way shape or form, I take that forward and so you know, it’s like that ripple effect. We all have an obligation here to try and make that change and if we all try then it will happen. And I think we’ve seen this happen overnight with AMP that all of a sudden the Board had to act. We’ve seen some resignations among some pretty high profile people because they lost touch. They lost touch with what communities and with the issues that shareholders now believe are important. So, we are seeing change and that’s fantastic and we all have to speak up to that change and act on that change.

I’m with you. At Our Watch, we talk a lot about that we need to promote and normalise and I always add celebrate gender equality in public and private life, if we’re gonna create an environment where violence is less likely to occur. But what I also say is that if we’re promoting gender equality in public and private life, for us we’re talking about preventing violence against women but we also know there are really strong, positive benefits for men. Men in terms of their health. Men in terms of their ability to take time out of the workforce to care for children and older people. When we think about caring for children, it is not women’s work. Yes, women have to carry children and bear them and give birth but I think it’s inappropriate to suggest that men are not good parents or men can’t be carers. And what we need to do is to create an environment where that can happen. So, looking at things like early childhood education and care, reviewing paid parental leave because when we talk about promoting gender equality that means for the benefit as men as well.

If we have men who are better connected to their caring responsibilities, are more able to make choices about when they’re in and out of the workforce, that will help us to balance what we need to do for women as well. So, I just think it’s a really important message that gender equality, pay equity is not about only benefiting women, it’s about bringing our community to a place where everybody is healthy, everyone can thrive, everyone has choice. Men can work, women can work, men can be carers, women can be carers, that we’re actually creating a healthy and strong community where we don’t leave people behind. I think it’s really important that people understand that this is not just a women’s thing. This is a community thing. This is creating the country that we want which will be more economically sound, which will be more vibrant and which will create people who are happier and healthier for longer.

Yeah, I mean you’re absolutely right. There are two things that we know really help drive gender equality and in doing so help drive the gender pay gap down and that is the normalisation of flexible work and equal access to paid parental leave. So, in terms of the normalisation of flexible work. The COVID pandemic has helped us achieve that partly. All of a sudden employers have realised that you can work remotely, you can work from home and still achieve outcomes. I mean this is something we’ve known for ages, Patty. But broadly, employers have discovered that that can happen. I think it’s important that we don’t sort of make working from home synonymous with flexible work. There are so many other ways of being able to work flexibly, compressed working weeks, job sharing opportunities, different start and finish times, looking at being more creative with shifts to allow people to meet their obligations both at home and at work and then as you say access to paid parental leave. We are all parents. Children need fathers in their lives. This is not women’s work. This is work where children need the interaction from both parents.
And I always say to people dads parent differently to mums. You know, just because dad goes out and he doesn’t have six nappies and three lots of whites and goodness knows what else in the nappy bag and so the baby comes home covered in babachino and all the rest of it, that doesn’t mean dad’s a bad parent it just means he does it differently to me. And as women, we have to accept that as well and we have to be you know, a little bit more lenient on our partners in saying that’s OK, it doesn’t matter you know, if my baby’s coming back covered in babachino. Just change him, pop him in the bath, whatever. I think that’s the thing that we have to go easier on ourselves and we have to go easier on our partners and recognise that different parenting style. You know, there’s one step I throw out all the time and that is that for every hour of unpaid care and domestic work that men are doing in Australia today, women are doing an hour and 46 minutes.

Now, until we close that gap we are precluding women from having the choice of being able to work because they need that extra time at the moment to do that extra care and domestic work. So, we have to close that gap and closing that gap we can do very easily if all employers embrace flexible work in its entirety. Ensure that men have equal access to it. Ensure that they are setting targets for the take up of men and flexible work. That’s really important because if you don’t know how many men are accessing flexible work then how are you going to you know, make real change. And the other thing is equal access for women and men to paid parental leave and we know that those two things are absolutely key in driving change for women and men. And if we change the choices for men, it changes the lives for women.

About Our Watch

Our Watch is a national leader in Australia’s work to stop violence against women and their children before it starts. The organisation was created to drive nation-wide change in the structures, norms and practices that lead to violence against women and children.

Media Contact

Shannon McKeogh (laurelle.keough@ourwatch.org.au or 0425 701 801 or media@ourwatch.org.au)

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The evidence
Woman holding baby.