Do we value our daughters as equals with our sons?

Thursday, 12 March 2020

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This past week we celebrated International Womens’ Day (IWD) for 2020 with the theme of Each for Equal. The IWD website says: “An equal world is an enabled world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.”

It was wonderful for our girls to hear from guest speaker Carla Bonev, who talked to us about what it means to be a female leader in business. Carla has always worked in the heavily male-dominated mining industry, which she enjoys because when mining is done in the right way it improves the lives of people now and for generations to come. Carla is part of the MLC community, as her two daughters are in our junior school.

IWD is an opportune time to reflect on gender-equity issues. Gender equity and the gender pay gap are concerns that are increasingly gaining wider attention. As a female, and especially as a female leading a learning institution for girls, I am particularly interested in this subject, as I want equity and the best opportunities ahead for each of our MLC girls. I have accompanied some of our senior students to forums relating to this issue, including some on the release of the latest report from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WEGA), which highlighted many key points regarding the Australian statistics.

The current average pay gap in Australia is 15.5 per cent and for full-time employees it is 22.4 per cent. This equates to the average female full-time worker earning approximately $27,000 per year less than male full-time workers. This is approximately $250 per week less than men, and would require approximately two months of additional work for women to earn the same as men. These statistics are constructed upon base pay rates. If we crunch the numbers based upon full remuneration, then the pay gap is even wider at 20.8 per cent. With compounding effects over the years, the average woman has 52.8 per cent less superannuation at retirement. Even a woman who has been in continuous full-time work is on average 44.3 per cent less well off than a man at the time of retirement. 

Western Australia has the largest gender pay gap of all Australian states and territories, with a gap of 22.5 per cent. South Australia has the lowest gap at 10.3 per cent. Of interest, the report highlights that this gap exists in all industries, even female-dominated industries. The education industry has approximately 63 per cent full-time female employees yet still has a pay gap of 11.3 per cent. Industries that have made the biggest improvements are those that regularly complete gender pay gap analysis reports and then publicly share the findings of these.

Alarmingly, women in Australia are two and a half times more likely to be in poverty in their old age than men. While the gender pay gap has been an issue for many years now, the gap has hovered between 15–18 per cent in Australia for the past 20 years. The improvements over the past three years only equate to roughly $30 extra per week. If we continue at this rate, young women entering the workforce now would be retired before the gender pay gap closes, with forecasters suggesting that this could take another 50 years to improve if we don’t take more action to address this issue. The statistics are even worse for women in a CEO position where, based upon current trends, equity is not likely to be achieved until 2221AD.

In conjunction with reading the WEGA report, I received a very interesting clip from Dr Faulkner. Click the image below to watch.

It is only a few minutes long yet has a powerful message that highlights how young children can see the inequity in pay gaps. This further highlights to us as adults that we need to stop this cycle so that our children are not caught in it for the next 50 years.

I also attended a recent conference which addressed this topic as part of the programme. The key message was that we need to start addressing this issue from a very young age. Did you know that in Australia the gender pay gap starts early, with boys receiving on average 27 per cent more pocket money than girls of the same age? An analysis of the types of chores being issued to children also highlights a gender bias, with girls typically given chores such as loading the dishwasher while boys are allocated tasks such as mowing the lawn. As parents, we can help address the gender pay gap issue by allocating chores and remuneration equally, based upon a job well done rather than gender. In addition, a review of the top 10 single-gender schools in Queensland has highlighted that the boys’ schools have 15 times the physical space than that of the girls’ schools, and that the boys’ schools receive 10 times the level of bequests and donations from parents and alumni.

When we see the gender pay gap statistics in black and white and relate them to our children as individuals whom we love and care for, it really does highlight that this is an issue that we need to address and not simply hope improves over time. As you can see from the forecasted trends, our girls will have retired by the time parity is reached in basic pay rates and it will be many more generations until our daughters reach parity in leadership roles—2221 is too long to wait by anyone’s standards.

Let’s all be #EachforEqual.