International Women’s Day Speech

by Dr Rachel Bush, Evidence and Policy Lead


Looking back 

Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. Because women’s economic empowerment is central to a gender equal world. Let’s take a moment and look back at 1928 when, in Australia, women called for equal pay for equal work, an 8-hour work day for shop girls, and paid leave. Now, in 2024, we’ve made up some incredible ground with gender equality. But we’re not there yet. It’s almost 100 years on and the gender pay gap is still demonstrating that a man’s contribution in the workforce is valued more than a woman’s.  

The gender pay gap 

What is the gender pay gap? There’s been a lot of chatter about the pay gap recently since 5,000 private sector pay gaps were published. And much of the commentary is showing us that there’s little understanding of what the pay gap is.  

So, what is it? In Australia, it’s a measure of how we value the contribution of men and women in the workforce.  

You’ll see it presented as a % or a dollar figure and it shows the difference between the average earnings of women and men.  

In Victorian, the pay gap is 12.9%. This means, for every average dollar earned by a man, women have earned 87.1 cents. 

So, you can see that this indicator helps us to highlight just how gender inequity impacts and drives the way that society shows its value for work and skill. 

Yet, the pay gap figures that are shared in the media lack nuance as they don’t compare gender diverse or non-binary folks with men (or indeed, women). And these figures don’t take into account intersectional identities and experiences. 

Intersectionality report 

Here are some pay gap figures that come from the Intersectionality Report released by the Commission in which they conducted an intersectional analysis of the baseline data from the workplace gender audits. So, this is data from 2021.  

You can see here the clear impact of power and privilege on the pay gap. How people with characteristics that hold the most social currency, like citizenship, having white skin, being able-bodied, identifying as heterosexual, being a cisgender man, are more highly valued and therefore benefit financially, while those who are marginalised are furthest behind. 

Drivers of pay gap – part time work 

So now you know what the pay gap is and what it looks like. But what’s driving the gender pay gap? What’s happening that women are falling behind?  

First up, we’ve got part-time work. In Victoria, according to the 2021 Census, almost half of the female population work part-time. This is roughly 1 in 2 women, compared with 1 in 5 men.  

And this has flow on effects, right? For instance, women are less likely to be in leadership positions, which pay more, because they’re often full time and inflexible.  

And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with women working part-time. For me, as a mother, working part-time has enabled me to re-enter and remain in the workforce. But we want men to also work part-time and be primary caregivers. Because, at the moment, it’s women who often require part-time and flexible work because we’re the ones making space for parenting and other caregiving responsibilities.  

Drivers of pay gap – caregiving and domestic duties 

But this also drives the pay gap. Unpaid labour. 

In Victoria, again based on 2021 Census data, about 24% more women than men said that they undertake unpaid childcare responsibilities.  

And about 42% more women than men provide unpaid assistance to a person with a disability.  

And while we’re on the topic of unpaid labour, let’s look at unpaid domestic work. On average women do 71% more unpaid domestic work than men.  

Drivers of pay gap – parental leave 

Now let’s rewind to the beginning of parenting. Parental leave.  

The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector have a data dashboard with all the baseline data from the first Workplace Gender Audits. You can look sort through the data according to workplaces or industries.  

I took a look at the average number of weeks of parental leave that were taken by women and men in each industry. Let’s look at the TAFE and other education industry as an example, where women took an average of 41.2 weeks of parental leave and men took an average of 3 weeks. This means women took on average, 13.7 times more leave than men. And this doesn’t even breakdown the paid and unpaid leave which continues to paint a horrifying story.  

This is more time out of the workforce for women than men which continues to impact women’s career progression and access to opportunities. 

Drivers of pay gap – feminised industries 

One more driver. 

Feminised industries and roles are typically lower paying than male-dominated industries and roles. In fact, WGEA have shown that even in female dominated industries, men are still earning more – on average, $14,309 more than women. 

Bias and discrimination 

Then we top this all off with a figurative cherry of conscious or unconscious bias, and sometimes outright discrimination. And through this bias we see people from marginalised groups less likely to succeed. And that’s not through a lack of hard work. It’s due to things like rigid essential criteria in a position description which excludes some people from applying for a job; educational requirements which don’t value lived experience; inflexible working conditions; microaggressions in the workplace which are often invisible to others but make a workplace hostile for those being targeted. And more. 

So, these are just some of the factors that influence the gender pay gap and widen it much more for others. Now let’s look at the downstream effects.  

Impact on preventing violence against women 

Let’s start with looking at how the gender pay gap impacts on preventing violence against women.  

Because with a lack of financial stability and economic independence, it makes it much harder for women to escape abusive situations. It leads to limited access to resources such as housing, healthcare, childcare, and daily necessities.  

So, women who do manage to leave often have to return. Data from the 2016 Personal Safety Survey showed that 30% of women who had suffered physical and/or sexual violence from their current partner had temporarily left on at least one occasion but later returned. Of these women, 15% said it was because they had no money or nowhere else to go. That’s 12,000 women who returned to their violent partner because it seemed a better option than being homeless or living poverty. And I use this word very loosely – because there are no options here.  

And while there are some fantastic, specialised crisis accommodation services, they’re underfunded which means they just can’t meet the demand.  

This means we have women who can’t afford to leave or stay away from their abuser, and many women who reach out to services for help, being turned away because there aren’t enough beds. To be clear, it’s not because these services lack care or compassion. It’s a lack of resources. A lack of funding. So, they have to remain in place or risk homelessness and poverty.  

And ultimately, the gender pay gap is keeping that cycle going. Perpetuating broader gender inequalities and attitudes that contribute to violence against women. By under remunerating feminised industries and roles, it reinforces stereotypes and attitudes that diminish the worth of women and undermine their rights which only perpetuates abusive behaviours. 

Impact on sexual and reproductive health 

The gender pay gap also has significant implications for women’s sexual and reproductive health.  

Access to healthcare. Unsurprisingly, women who earn less find it much harder to afford the services they need, such as contraception, abortions, screenings for STIs. This leads to untreated medical conditions, and higher rates of unintended pregnancies – the consequences of which, will only continue to widen the pay gap. 

The gender pay gap also impacts on contraceptive choices because with a lack of funds, women are going to need to choose an affordable option. Because the cost of avoiding unintended pregnancy is almost completely up to women. This means, many women end up having to opt for less effective methods or inconsistent use because they simply can’t afford it.  

Financial stress also has a significant impact on our mental health. And we know that high levels of stress, anxiety, depression affect our sexual and reproductive health outcomes. So mental health challenges can impact on levels of pain, ability to conceive, or our ability to even seek care.  

Impact on women aged over 65 

What else can happen if the gender pay gap is not closed? If society continues to undervalue women’s contribution in the workforce?  

Let’s turn our attention to women over 65 who, after a lifetime of discrimination, are most at risk of homelessness.  

In fact, this age group of women make up a large proportion of people who are homeless but this is kind of invisible because when we think of homelessness, we picture a man sleeping rough on a bench. But for women, for safety reasons, they move from couch to couch, sleep in their car, do what they can to avoid sleeping on the street.  

And the reason why homelessness is a bigger issue among older women than men? Gender inequality.  

Not benefiting from superannuation when they started working. Being paid at a lower rate than men. Stopping paid work for a period of time – or all together – to raise a family or care for others who require ongoing support. In fact, for many women now aged over 70, it was once compulsory to cease paid employment once they married. And now, if they find themselves single and without their partner’s wage or superannuation, they find themselves in a position of financial vulnerability.  

So, you can see just how the pay gap spreads its insidious tentacles and impacts so many areas of women’s lives and why we need to invest in strategies to close it. 

Guide to evaluate your pay gap 

So, what do we do? 

Well, put simply, we want organisations to look at their pay gap and take real action to close it. 

This involves not only understanding what your organisation’s gender pay gap is, but more importantly, understanding what’s influencing it. Understanding what’s happening within each of the gender equality workplace indicators. Because each of these indicators focuses on key areas where gender inequality persists within workplaces. 

So, ask yourself, what’s the gender composition of your workplace? How is your workplace taking action to prevent gender-based violence? Is there bias in your recruitment, promotion and professional development processes? What proportion of male employees are taking parental leave and carers leave? Do you have diversity within the departments or workgroups in your organisation?  

Finding the answers to these questions can feel like a difficult and overwhelming task. But WHISE is here to help. We want our partners to feel empowered to do this work themselves. So, we’ve developed a guide. It steps you through what the pay gap is and how to evaluate and understand what’s closing your pay gap and what’s keeping it open.  

It does this by explaining, well firstly, why you’re collecting data for each indicator – why it matters. And then explains how each indicator impacts on the pay gap because this isn’t always immediately obvious. And then what to look for in your data – and this is the HR/payroll data you entered into the reporting template provided by the Commission, and the People Matter Survey data. 

What if your workplace isn’t a defined entity who is required to complete a workplace gender audit under the Gender Equality Act? You will still find this guide to be a helpful resource. The prompting questions will help you to think about your workplace and understand what’s influencing your pay gap.