- Small pay discrepancies at the start of careers compound over time and are one of many reasons the gender pay gap persists.
- The Workplace Gender Equality Agency identified the full-time gender pay gap in accountancy in Australia as 17.5%, compared with 20.1% across all industries.
- WGEA director Libby Lyons says employers have become complacent and are in the grip of “gender equality fatigue”.
By Fiona Smith
Laura Conti CA got a firm knockback when she tried to negotiate for a higher starting salary on joining one of the Big Four as a fresh graduate 17 years ago.
“I remember trying to negotiate it and saying that $30,000 was not a lot of money and could I have $35,000? And they were like, ‘No’…”
A few years later, Conti had married one of her colleagues – in the same graduate recruitment cohort – and she found his letter of offer.
“He was paid $2500 more than me, at the very start of our careers. I was horrified. I was really angry,” she says.
Picture: Laura Conti.
“He was paid $2500 more than me, at the very start of our careers.”
To make matters worse, her husband, David, had not even negotiated the higher salary. “That was just what he was offered.”
“They just value men’s skills more,” says Conti. The injustice still rankles all these years later.
Are we closing the gender pay gap?
Laura left corporate accounting after 16 years and founded social enterprise retailer #GoKindly with David at the end of 2018.
Small pay discrepancies like this at the start of careers compound over time and are one of a multitude of reasons that pay gaps persist – despite all the measurement and human resources programs of recent years.
In Conti’s case, she was paid less for doing the same job. However, the pay gap generally refers to the difference between the average earnings of women and men across the entire Australian workforce.
In Australia, women who work full-time earn 20.1%, or A$25,534 a year, less than men across the whole economy. The reasons for this include discrimination and bias; the undervaluing of female-dominated jobs; and women not progressing to more senior roles because they have to balance paid work with doing the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work at home.
In accountancy, research by CA ANZ in its 2019 Remuneration Report found differences in average and median gross remuneration between males and females working in the same job role, indicating that a gender gap may exist, “particularly in senior roles such as CFOs and directors”.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) identified the full-time gender pay gap in accountancy as 17.5%, compared with 20.1% across all industries, 23.8% in legal services and 28.7% in medical services.
It is not inevitable that there should be a gap. EY recently announced it had eliminated the gender pay gap across the firm. When it first publicly disclosed the pay gap figure in 2018, the gap sat at 10% across the organisation.
Lee Mulvey, EY Oceania diversity and inclusion leader, says a continued focus and discipline is required to address gender pay parity and to maintain a zero gender pay gap.
“Continual monitoring and action is required by our leadership team, who are committed to our targets.”
Complacency over the gender pay gap
In the past year, during the COVID-19 emergency, it appears employers, generally, have taken their eye off closing the gap. According to WGEA, there was a substantial 6.1 percentage point decline in the number of employers taking action on pay equity.
More than 45% of employers undertaking a pay gap analysis in Australia took no action to address the inequities they discovered. The agency also reported that women continue to dominate the more insecure part-time and casual roles.
WGEA director Libby Lyons says employers have become complacent and are in the grip of “gender equality fatigue”.
Julie McKay, chief diversity, inclusion & wellbeing officer at PwC Australia, has little tolerance for leaders who are “tired of talking about it”.
People across all industries have expressed frustration about the slow rate of progress, she says. “And, eventually, if you don’t feel like progress is being made, you decide to do something else.”
However, leaders should not tolerate that attitude, says McKay.
“If someone came to the table and said, ‘Oh, guys, I’m not super keen on safety this year and I’m just not going to prioritise it’, there’s no company or employer in the country that would say, ‘OK, no worries’.
“If wellbeing and belonging in a team were as important as other metrics for leaders, then it would be less of a tack-on activity that everyone gets exhausted by. It is more about how I show up every day,” she says.
We’ve come a long way but…
Heather Smith FCA, CA ANZ ambassador for innovation, remembers starting her career in the early 1990s in a four-level building in Cheltenham, UK, where the second-floor directors’ level did not have a female toilet on it.
“There was a double toilet on all levels, except for that one. That’s how ingrained it was,” she says. “And it’s such a minor and weird thing, but such a major part of the structural fabric of that leadership.”
Smith says gender disparity on pay in a “structured” industry, such as accounting, can never make sense. Now the principal of ANISE Consulting (and self-described accounting apps hype girl), Smith sees the toll paid by women who shoulder more than their fair share of family-caring responsibilities.
Many of the women she knows who have “significant” career roles share their home lives with partners who take primary responsibility for child care. Others have started their own businesses to achieve flexibility around parenting and work.
Nice little earner: Results from the 2019 CA ANZ remuneration survey
CAs seem to be avoiding truly sluggish wage growth, with a little over a 5% average increase in earning power in 12 months.Read more