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Mythbusting – Women and Employment

Five Ways You Can Bust Myths About Women and Why It’s Important

Inequity, inequality and injustice are sure things to get me fired up. When Libby Lyons, Director of WGEA recently posted on Twitter about a (small) drop in the gender pay gap, the thread of comments that followed were an illuminating insight into the attitudes toward women getting a fair go in Australia. I saw red and broke one of my rules and tweeted whilst angry.

Advancing Women Michelle Redfern Tweet

The gender pay gap is real. It starts early. It persists throughout a woman’s life. It harms her. Especially when she becomes a woman over 50. It harms Australia, economically, socially and politically. It’s time for every one of us to step in, everywhere, all the time, to close a yawning financial gap that simply is not fair.

It Starts Young and Persists

Women’s wallets are penalised from the outset of life. Girls are paid less pocket-money than boys, they’re expected to contribute in greater amounts to household chores and they perform more caring duties than boys. This is a trend that continues throughout a woman life.

Women are not only paid less than men to the tune of 21.3% (AUD $25, 717), they also carry out two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. As a result, women have less time to go to work or they are forced to work longer overall hours when taking into account paid and unpaid work.

FINAL Gender Pay Gap Factsheet Cover Feb 2019
Source: WGEA

On top of that, Australia has one of the most gender segregated workforces in the world. What this means is the there are very clear stereotypes about what constitutes women’s work versus mens work. Sectors such as healthcare and social assistance services are dominated by women who represent 80% of workers and 70% of management roles. Whereas manufacturing mining and construction are dominated by men. Surprise, surprise, healthcare and social assistance services are the lowest paid industries with construction and mining some of the highest. Draw your own conclusions about what might happen if more men were catapulted into nursing, teaching, childcare and retail!

Busting Myths

Lets cut to the chase and bust some myths about women, work, money and equality:

Myth 1: Women graduate from university and secure post-graduate roles with equal pay.

Graduate programs typically under-hire and under-pay women versus men to the tune of 10%. Research shows that women graduates encounter a pay gap of several thousand dollars in their first job out of university. This pay gap widens as other gendered expectations along with structural barriers in the workplace (lack of paid parental leave, flexible work, bias and discrimination) emerge to hold women back from advancing their career and their lifetime financial wellbeing. Unfortunately, these barriers and attitudes to women persist throughout her career.

Myth 2: Women don’t ask for pay rises.

This is a cop-out based on gendered stereotypes about the way society expects a woman to behave. This view perpetuates the myth that it’s the woman fault and doesn’t take into account the systemic workplace practices that fail to organise and value work along with performance, fairly. These failures include recruitment processes and selection criteria, as well as benchmarks used to assess performance, pay and promotion.

Women are further penalised when they do ask for a raise. In this recent study by HBR, we discover that women are asking for pay rises at similar rates to men (as opposed to previous information which indicated women do not ask). However, due to bias and expectations about ‘asking behaviour’, they are less likely to be granted a pay rise, even when disparity exists.

“The bottom line is that the patterns we have found are consistent with the idea that women’s requests for advancement are treated differently from men’s requests.  Asking does not mean getting — at least if you are a female.

Myth 3: Women just aren’t ambitious.

Bulldust! Women are ambitious, but they are expected not to act this way. Not to ask, not to want, not to take. So they experience the type of treatment that driven, ambitious women (think Julia Gillard and Hillary Clinton) are dished out that reinforces that women are to be kept in their place.

Behaviours and traits men are lauded for, assertive action, commitment to principle, lofty goals, refusal to compromise, are repurposed into words like abrasive, inflexible and grasping ambition when used in the context of a woman drive to succeed. A 2014 study of performance reviews found that women are not only more likely to receive negative reviews, but also more likely to be criticised for exhibiting behaviours that men were actively encouraged to cultivate: aggressiveness, assertiveness, and ambition. The punishment? Thwarted ambition and lower pay.

What Must Leaders Do?

This is yet another opportunity for leaders to critically examine their own mindset and behaviours when it comes to women, work, money and equality. 5 things that leaders must do to even the playing field for women in the workplace:

  1. Clarity: Leaders must create a culture where the rules about performance, pay and promotion are well-known.  Specifically, all workers need to be explicitly told that pay negotiation is permitted, or not. As the HBR study says ‘when the “rules of wage determination” are left ambiguous, men do tend to negotiate higher pay.’
  2. Process: Leaders must develop objective criteria to evaluate performance, promotion and pay.  Train all people leaders how to use the processes. Train all people leaders how to effectively manage recruitment, performance, promotion and pay processes.
  3. Bias: Leaders must publicly acknowledge we all have bias and make it safe to have open discussion. Take proactive steps for continuous awareness and education activity to combat bias during performance reviews, salary negotiations, recruitment and promotion evaluations.
  4. Denial: Do not try to explain the gender pay gap away. It exists. It is up to you to make sure it does not exist in your workplace.
  5. Deep Dive: There should be little stopping any people leader, in any organisation, undertaking a deep dive into the pay data of your team. An objective, critical review of the salaries paid to your team will highlight opportunity for immediate action.

Who is responsible?

The burden of financial inclusion for should not be placed on the financially excluded, and the same applies to workplaces. So the short answer is that it is not women, HR or the diversity working group that are responsible for solving wage equity. It’s leaders.

The lifetime gender pay gap costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars, their homes, their health and their dignity. Pay equality in the workplace is the responsibility of leaders who must take action so that all people are able to access and enjoy the same rewards, resources and opportunities, regardless of gender.

This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern

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Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.