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Don’t Ignore Gender Equality

Sunday, 8 March, 2015

At the 87th Annual Academy Awards, there was a moment. Winner of Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette, got up and dedicated the award “to every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation”, proclaiming: “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women.”

Feminists watching around the world joined Meryl Streep in shouting “YES”, standing up and clapping our hands.

It was a brief moment of joy, and I needed it, because what had happened the week before was pretty embarrassing. Unlike the attention that Arquette’s speech received, the latest report by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) went virtually undiscussed. What the statistics in the report reveal is shocking, yet what was worse is that there was no uproar, no condemnation and no one announcing how we can tackle workplace gender inequality.

The report exposed that in Australia there is a pay gap that exists between men and women at every level of management. The data was the most specific we have had revealed in this nation, showing that the largest gender pay discrepancy is found in Administrative and Support Services at a whopping 44.7 per cent. Second prize went to Arts and Recreation Services where the gender pay gap was revealed to be 35.1 per cent.

It’s worth articulating a few more statistics – that even within the Retail sector, an area perceived to be more female accessible, there is the largest pay gap for senior managers at 28.7 per cent. And that a pervasive 34.4 per cent gap exists within the Financial and Insurance Services sector, receiving the award for the largest pay gap for executives and general managers.

These statistics had me absolutely gob-smacked. I knew that the national gender pay gap is 18.8 per cent (which is actually a record high that has increased over most uni students’ lifetimes from 15.9 per cent in 1994), but to read that female managers in Administrative Services are earning nearly half of what their male counterparts earn is an indictment.

I found myself scratching my head a bit over the lack of attention or discussion this report provoked.

Is it that the gender pay gap is such old news, no one really gives a rat’s arse anymore? Or is there something more ideological at play?

Fairfax Media reported the facts in a handful of articles but there was no sense of pressure being put on the government to release a plan of action. News Corp media outlets – well, they really drop kicked the ball into oblivion. News.com.au unpacked the report in a thorough way but in searching The Australian website (which runs the search across all Murdoch-press), there were far more articles about how “unnecessary” the WGEA is, rather than highlighting its findings.

Although, there might have been more media attention over the report had the government provided a reaction or response.

Ahem, Minister for Women? Anyone seen him? He wears a blue tie. Anyone?

Tony Abbott was unfortunately missing in action. But hold your horses, a spokesman for the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women was available, and told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government had “never shied away from the fact that there is a gender pay gap”, naming the Coalition’s plans to reform childcare as their leading policy to advance gender equality.

But before you go ‘Meryl’ on that spokesman, it should be noted that a mere nine days following the WGEA’s report, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women made an announcement herself. Michaelia Cash declared that the government would scrap additional reporting requirements that were due to come into effect April, 2015. This includes the reporting of CEO salaries, requests and approvals of extended parental leave and the pay of casual managers.

Of course, because, how dare we implement measures that increase transparency, or worse, might lead to, oh god, gender equality…

It’s all pretty ridiculous. The statistics are shocking. They reveal that in Australia, women are still excluded, women are still undervalued and women are still underpaid.

The report identified that “women face a double bind when negotiating pay whereby attempts to assertively argue their value are viewed more harshly than when a man exhibits the same behaviour”.

‘Unconscious bias’ is a cultural issue that Australia cannot afford to keep sweeping under the rug and workplaces must be forced to address.

Systemic, institutional discrimination is affecting us all and should not be ignored or normalised. We need to have a reaction, and we need to not only care about gender inequality when a celebrity stands up, but also when our media, government and wider society do not.