Date posted: 01/06/2021 5 min read

Mind the gap: Surprises in the 2021 Remuneration Report

2020 brought financial rewards for some accountants, but CA ANZ’s 2021 Remuneration Report reveals a worrying gender pay gap.

In Brief

  • Average gross annual earnings for chartered accountants in 2020 in Australia were A$166,488 (median A$134,900) and in New Zealand NZ$149,256 (median NZ$121,165).
  • Female CAs, on average, earned A$50,000 less than male CAs in Australia and NZ$60,000 less in New Zealand.
  • Seven in 10 of female CAs surveyed said there was a gender pay gap, but less than three in 10 of male CA respondents agreed.

By Johanna Leggatt

The global pandemic has failed to dent the earnings of chartered accountants, with members in Australia and New Zealand reporting increases in their salaries during 2020.

According to the CA ANZ 2021 Remuneration Report, both men and women reported an average 4.5% salary increase in Australia. Across the Tasman in New Zealand, pay increased by an average of 4.3% for men and 5.8% for women respectively.

Accountants’ pay during the pandemic

Mark Rice, group executive member engagement at CA ANZ, says chartered accountants are likely being rewarded for hard work in an overwhelming year.

“This is a very good indicator that CAs are truly valued, and probably getting a bit of a reward for all the extra hours they have worked over the past 12 months during the pandemic,” he says.

“We certainly got a lot of anecdotal feedback from members… as to the incredible hours they were working and their emotional engagement to help serve their clients and communities.”

In Australia, the average gross wage for chartered accountants in 2020 was A$166,488, while in New Zealand it was NZ$149,256. The median salary for Australia and New Zealand was A$134,900 and NZ$121,165 respectively.

In Australia, peak earnings were in the 50-to-59 age group, with the average remuneration for these CA ANZ members at A$254,239. New Zealand showed a similar profile, with peak earnings at NZ$188,505 in that age group.

On average, fellow chartered accountants (FCAs) in Australia earned A$307,527, almost twice as much compared with their chartered accountant colleagues. In New Zealand, however, it was chartered accountant members who earned the most, at an average of NZ$154,307.

The sticky issue of the gender pay gap

The survey has also highlighted a considerable gender pay gap. Female chartered accountants in Australia earn an average of A$134,721, while men recorded an average wage of A$185,863 – a difference of more than A$50,000. In New Zealand, the pay gap was greater at NZ$60,000, with men earning an average of NZ$178,491 compared to NZ$118,205 for women.

Remuneration and increment – by gender

Remuneration and increment – by genderGraph: Remuneration and increment – by gender. Click image to enlarge. With an average gap of around $50K and $60K in AU and NZ respectively, men in both countries are getting paid significantly higher than their female counterparts. Respondents in both countries claimed they gained more than 4% increase in their salary from last year. Source: All graphs from the CA ANZ 2021 Remuneration Report. CA ANZ commissioned Qualtricsxm to run the study from 23 February to 23 March 2021. There were 4517 responses from CA ANZ members (2622 in Australia; 1895 in New Zealand).

While almost seven in 10 of the women surveyed say a gender pay gap exists, fewer than three in 10 of the surveyed men agreed. This is despite almost all men and women believing that both genders should be paid equally.

“There’s an education piece required in terms of how we can get people to understand the differences that exist in remuneration so we can actually shine a spotlight on this issue and start looking at what some of the solutions might be,” says Rice.

“We can actually shine a spotlight on this [gender pay gap] issue and start looking at what some of the solutions might be.”
Mark Rice, CA ANZ

According to Catherine Fox – a leading commentator on workplace gender parity and an award-winning journalist – many professionals believe equal pay legislation has naturally resulted in workplace meritocracy.

“Unfortunately, we have binders full of research now that shows bias and discrimination are woven through how we recruit, how we progress people, and whether they get assignments that can lead them to further career progression,” says Fox.

Gender pay gap – Select full-time positions

Gender pay gap – select full-time positionsGraph: Gender pay gap – Select full-time positions. Click image to enlarge. As women and men progress in their careers, women start disappearing from more senior roles and their total remuneration starts to lag behind their male counterparts. Source: All graphs from the CA ANZ 2021 Remuneration Report.

Surveyed members who did not believe accounting had a gender pay gap gave as their chief reason that employees are paid on performance, merits and responsibilities (26%).

Among those who did believe there was a gender pay gap, the most common reason cited was women’s caring responsibilities to family and children (17%), followed by “senior positions filled by men” (7%).

“With women, some 50% of the employable population are feeling some sort of disadvantage. From a business perspective, I think it’s beholden on organisations to ensure women are not disadvantaged because they have primary caring responsibilities,” says Rice.

Gender pay gap – perception and reality

Gender pay gap – perception and realityGraph: Gender pay gap – perception and reality. Click image to enlarge. Almost seven in 10 women believe the gender pay gap exists, compared with fewer than three in 10 men. More education and awareness is needed for male counterparts to be aware of this, because claimed remuneration shows men are paid significantly higher than women on all components, particularly in the bonus/risk component. Source: All graphs from the CA ANZ 2021 Remuneration Report.

Members also listed a boys’ club mentality and the professional and social connections that men enjoy with other male executives (4%), and the fact that men are more confident to ask for a raise (2%) as potential causes for the pay gap.

Hearteningly, as Rice notes, most members agreed it was important for CA ANZ to address the issue of the gender pay gap. “Clearly we need to talk about the issue more and shine a spotlight, but we also need to take action on the issue,” Rice says.

Some solutions members nominate include greater pay transparency (24%), annual pay gap analysis (22%), analysing performance ratings versus pay to ensure there is no gender bias (19%), and leaders, such as chief executives, championing pay equity (18%).

The negative effect of career breaks

The survey also highlighted the effect taking a career break had on upward progression. Interestingly, while only one-third of respondents had taken breaks in their career, this number rises to almost half among women. Only one in five of their male peers reported taking career breaks. Women also take longer breaks – an average of almost two years.

Among the 57% of men and women who said a career break had some, or a severe, impact on their career, 16% cited delayed career progression and missed opportunities while 8% referenced the limitations of returning to work part-time.

“There was one female member who said she had to work her way back up again from a lower level, even at the same firm, when she came back from having children,” says Rice.

Fox notes, however, that some companies are showing how it can be done. In 2018, Energy Australia spent A$1.2 million closing its 2% gender pay gap, leading to increased pay for about 350 women via an annual salary review and an additional one-off adjustment of about A$3500 (on average). The pay of 80 men was also adjusted following a review of employees not on enterprise bargaining agreements.

“I think it’d be a rare organisation that would not listen to staff calls for a pay audit in this day and age,” says Fox.

Career break reasons and impacts

Career break reasons and impactsGraph: Career break reasons and impacts. Click image to enlarge. Not surprisingly, women are more likely to take career leave for personal responsibility (either for their children or others). Solutions to balance out the carer roles between men and women need to be addressed to avoid career break impacts. Source: All graphs from the CA ANZ 2021 Remuneration Report. CA ANZ commissioned Qualtricsxm to run the study from 23 February to 23 March 2021. There were 4517 responses from CA ANZ members (2622 in Australia; 1895 in New Zealand).

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Full results of the 2021 CA ANZ Remuneration Report

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