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The gender pay gap is a complex, multi-layered problem with many contributing factors and it certainly isn’t unique to this country. One thing that is particularly striking in Australia, however, is the fact that extremely high levels of education have seemingly not helped to close the gap.

Remarkably, Australia ranks equal first globally for women’s education, but is ranked a shocking 70th for financial empowerment. This SMH article highlights that more women aged 25-34 hold bachelor degrees than men – and women are outperforming men at both uni and school-leaving exams.

The gender pay gap for young people just entering the workforce is relatively narrow, before becoming more pronounced over time. It is particularly pronounced for workers aged 45-54, when it widens to nearly 18%. 

The WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency) also has some interesting figures which are worth exploring. For one thing, it is striking to see the gaps vary significantly between states. Western Australia’s pay gap is a whopping 21.2%, whereas South Australia’s is just 7.4%. 

This is largely attributable to the types of industries that are dominant in these states. WA has a significant mining and construction profile which are “industries with relatively high earnings and low representation of women,” according to WGEA. By contrast, South Australia has a large public sector, which traditionally has “a lower pay gap and more balanced gender representation.”

So what can be done about it?

Many companies are taking the issue into their own hands and challenging old notions about how pay is determined. Corporate practices are changing and organisations are improving their parental leave policies to further protect employees having children. 

The trend of increased pay transparency is another thing that is helping to drive change. Many companies are starting to more openly share and publish the salaries, or at least the salary ranges that their employees are on. This has positive ramifications for the gender pay gap, because obviously if employees have a clear idea of what their colleagues are on, this empowers them to be able to demand similar.

Increasing access to affordable childcare is another item that has an impact and the new federal government has flagged this as a priority. 

Are there any positives?

We’ve clearly still got work to do, but it’s also worth reflecting on how far we’ve come. Back in November 2014 (not even eight years ago) the average gender pay gap was 18.6%, whereas today it’s nearly 5% lower at 13.8%. Looking further back – in the 1970s, only one in three university students were female, whereas today it is half.

If Australia can keep up, or indeed accelerate, the pace on this progress, it is entirely possible that we can close most of the remainder of the gender pay gap in the next decade. But it will require a concerted effort from all of us – individuals, governments and employers – to ensure a sustained, multi-pronged attack on this complicated problem.