'The future is female' sign held up at a Women's Rights March


It’s been an incredible time in Australia’s history over the past year regarding gender equality as more women than ever stand up for their rights and expectations of fair treatment. Some notable examples include Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and Christine Holgate all of whom have shown incredible courage and integrity in voicing their perspectives and demands for change. It does feel like a turning point & we all have a role to play. 

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) continues to do some incredible work of measuring and shining a light on many issues related to women’s equality. One area that we are passionate about and talk of often in the context of our work on Confidence is the gender pay gap. This issue has been around for decades and stubbornly refuses to move much, despite lots of great work done by organisations and individuals. 

Let’s look at the research

Whilst this is a complex issue, She’s Price(d)less: The economics of the gender pay gap, a report done by KPMG in conjunction with WGEA, analysed more specifically the drivers of this gap that include:

  • Gender discrimination – 39%: the single biggest component of the gender pay gap.
  • Care, family & workforce participation – 25%: the gendered impact of children and family including years not working due to interruptions, part-time employment and unpaid care and work.
  • Occupational & industrial segregation – 17%: the unequal distribution of women and men in particular occupations or industry sectors (eg healthcare and teaching) or categories (eg frontline workers as compared to executive leaders).

Many of the structural and systemic issues contributing to these three elements can not be solved overnight. Although organisations continue to drive change through analysis of their gender pay gap and reducing discrimination directly through cultural change, this alone is not enough.

Our [email protected] research in 2018 revealed that one in two women felt that they were underpaid by 10% or more, and of these less than half had had a conversation about salary in the previous 12 months. Now we know, having supported hundreds of women through salary negotiation conversations, that these conversations can be tough, both in existing and new roles. But if we are going to really make a difference and do our part to close the gender pay gap, then we need to support each other to lean into these conversations.

What can you do?

It’s not an easy fix, but there are steps you can take to help improve the situation for yourself and women.

1. Choose to challenge.

It is important to resource yourself well to challenge! Depending on the conversation to be had, challenging someone is likely to bring up tricky emotions and concerns. Taking responsibility for your feelings ahead of engaging in dialogue with others is crucial. This will enable a positive foundation for the discussion.  

When looking to challenge, be explicit in what you are trying to achieve both internally and with your colleague. It can be useful to orientate your discussion around your organisation’s values, purpose or respectful workplace expectations. Find out more about choosing to challenge. 

2. Negotiate your salary.

Start by doing your research and find out what your market value is. This is not a perfect science and the lack of transparent data makes it tough but it is not impossible. 

Then prepare yourself and understand this is going to be hard and somewhat uncomfortable. There are no guarantees that you will be successful, in fact, we know that some of you will not be THIS time but the value of activating the conversation and standing up for who you are and the value you contribute is immeasurable. Find out more about negotiating salaries.

2. Reducing the volume and quality of the housework at home and at work

Home housework is self-explanatory, but office housework is just as demanding and impactful. Office housework includes minor but unpaid tasks such as taking notes in meetings; something most women are co-opted into doing because of the gender bias we all hold that mirrors society.

By reducing the volume and quality of housework you do, you will have more time and energy that can be redirected elsewhere. Find out more about prioritisation.

Your voice in the system is a catalyst for the collective change we want to achieve.

Breathe & back yourself. If you don’t honour your value then no one else will. Speak up, be heard and own your worth.  Closing the gender pay gap is not simple; however, YOU have the power and agency to advance the message and disrupt the system.