Gender pay gap hits record low


The number of women entering the workforce or shifting to full-time employment has surged over the past year, helping to push up growth in wages for women above men, narrowing the gender wage gap across Australia.

Female full-time employment stood at 3,875,300 in June, up strongly from 3,654,700 in June 2022, representing a rise of around 6% over the year, according to jobs data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month.

That compares to an increase in male full-time employment of 2.7% over the same period. The participation rate of women in the workforce struck a record high of 62.6% in June while the female unemployment rate sat at just 3.4%, slightly lower than the male rate of 3.6%.

gender pay gap narrows

Women, who comprise around 47% of the Australian workforce, are benefitting from a strong jobs market.

The gap in average weekly ordinary full-time earnings, the most commonly cited of the gender pay gap measures, fell for the second straight cycle to the lowest level on record, down to 13.0% over the year to May 2023, according to ABS data.

The gap has narrowed on the back of a strong increase in full-time wages in female-dominated jobs such as teaching and nursing.

Full-time adult average weekly total earnings for women jumped 4.6% over the year to May, well above growth in male average weekly earnings of 3.6%.

The gender wages gap is now around 0.9 points lower than just before the pandemic (13.9% in November 2019), 4.4 points below where it was a decade ago (17.4% in May 2013) and around 2.0 points below the pre-mining boom low in 2005.

Several factors are contributing to the large gain in the number of women employed. The emergence of more flexible working arrangements in Australia has helped to boost female workforce participation. The rising cost of living is also forcing some women into the workforce, to help meet the spiralling cost of living and rising mortgage repayments.

Given such a tight labour market and inflationary pressures, the time is ripe for women to ask for a decent pay rise if they haven't already received one.

After many years of minimal growth in real wages, it is important women to lean in and ask their bosses for a bigger pay packet to close the gap with men, who are far more likely to ask for a pay rise.

Many employers will be willing to renegotiate salary packages to avoid the headache of having to replace female workers given the unemployment rate is at its lowest in nearly 50 years and many skills are in short supply.

In addition to more cash, there are other perks women could ask for to boost the value of their remuneration packages. This could include asking for learning and education opportunities.

This is a key area where many employers fall short, yet women can really benefit from greater vocational and careers training.

Women could also ask for paid maternity leave options beyond the legislative minimum if they want to have children. Most workplaces now provide access to carers' leave and permanent part-time employment, which women often need or favour.

More workplaces are also more willing to provide paid maternity leave beyond minimum legislative requirements, so it might be worth asking for extra if you need it to support your family.

Another area is menstruation and menopause leave, or types of paid leave given to female employees who are experiencing menstrual-related health issues or symptoms of menopause.

While the availability of this type of leave is very limited, it is something every employer should consider given the ageing of the population and the fact that women make up almost 50% of the workforce.

There are several other employment conditions women may value, such as greater flexibility in working hours and working from home (WFH) options. This is important, especially now as some employers wind back WFH options, wanting to restore the pre-pandemic normality of office culture, and also concerned about the productivity of remote workers.

Yet WFH often enables women to better balance their working and domestic lives. Women who participated in unpaid work activities spent on average four hours and 31 minutes a day, while males spent three hours and 12 minutes in 2020-21, according to data from the ABS.

Female parents who participated in child care, spent three hours and 34 minutes a day on that while male parents spent two hours and 19 minutes each day.

Winding back WFH policies can often hurt women workers more than men, given they many are more often involved in caring roles and doing more housework which is still a shocking statistic from an equality perspective.

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Kris Grant is CEO of ASPL Group, a management consultancy, training and recruitment firm. She has a passion for inclusion in the workplace. Kris holds a Bachelor of Business from RMIT.