Pay attention: Why do men earn more than women?

The gender pay gap has been in the news ever since Lisa Wilkinson left Channel Nine’s Today show last week. The story took an interesting turn when it was revealed Wilkinson would be paid in excess of $2 million at Channel 10, while her soon-to-be co-hosts on The Project Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly (both Gold Logie winners) are each rumoured to earn roughly $500,000 per year.

The concept of merit is often brought up around the gender pay dispute, namely that employees should be paid based on their experience and ability, rather than their sex. This is valid, but considering girls and young women outperform their male counterparts when it comes to educational attainment and women are still performing the bulk of unpaid domestic chores (more than 60 per cent of men report helping with less than five hours’ worth of housework per week) in a climate where men are working less, the discrepancy must be a bitter pill to swallow.

In 2010, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Gender Initiative identified three key areas — education, employment and entrepreneurship —critical to the development of the Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now campaign two years later. Despite the time, money and resources dedicated to the cause, statistics indicate that the gender pay gap remains largely unchanged. In 2015, Australia’s discrepancy sat at 13 per cent (a full-time female employee earns 87 cents for every dollar a male earns), more than double that of New Zealand (six per cent), a nation who just last week elected their third female Prime Minister. India has the highest gender pay gap at a whopping 56 per cent, while Belgium is the lowest with three per cent. Some demographics are worse off than others. The gender pay gap is particularly prevalent for high income workers, it increases with age, and it widens for parents — often referred to as the “motherhood penalty”.

According to the 2016 Census of Population and Housing, male employment has declined by 18 per cent in the last 50 years, while female workers have increased by 22 per cent. However, according to The Good Universities Guide, female-dominated fields such as nursing, rehabilitation and teacher education may be on the rise, but the salaries are still middle-of-the-range in comparison to high paying, predominately male professions like engineering.

So, if the plight of women in the workforce is so transparent, what are we doing about it?

Challenging stereotypes

Reports of women taking leave after having a child and struggling to find employment later down the track are common, but there are advocates for a shift in mindset. In March, a cross party group of 44 MPs from the United Kingdom sent a letter outlining the need for “non-transferrable paid parental leave for fathers or second parents” to Equalities Secretary Justine Greening. The intention is to bring balance to parenting, considered “one of the most significant causes of the gender pay gap”, however, the transition may already be in motion. In September, it was revealed that, for the first time, women outnumber men in the dental industry — the highest paying profession straight out of university with an 82.6 per cent employment rate for undergraduates (The Good Universities Guide 2018).

Pushing STEM

The promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in female education, particularly from an early age, is a tactic aimed at reducing the pay gap. Products like Goldieblox are designed for girls as young as four, with the intention of encouraging their interest in fields like engineering and architecture, while Code Like A Girl will help build the skills to fill around 700,000 new jobs in the digital tech sphere by 2020.  Elsewhere, No Gender December, built on the premise that a child’s gender shouldn’t determine the type of toys they play with, has also brought the gender equality discussion into the media spotlight.

Fighting Violence Against Women (VAW)

Domestic violence is a huge problem around the world and Australia is no exception. Society is unlikely to get its head around fair treatment of women in the workforce while abuse and violence to women in their own homes is so prevalent. White Ribbon, Our Watch and Lifeline are all services committing to supporting and assisting the victims of family violence.

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