How were businesses focusing on gender equality in 2019-2020?

The 2019-2020 Workplace Gender Equality Scorecard is in. The Scorecard demonstrates where businesses have focused their gender equality efforts for the reporting year 2019-2020 and where more attention is needed. Many employers were no doubt challenged this year with the sudden impact of the pandemic severely affecting business in early 2020. Notwithstanding, 98% of businesses required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (being businesses with 100 employees or more) still provided the Agency with their reports.

A key highlight of the Scorecard is the national gender pay gap which now stands at 15% in favour of men for base salaries (or $15,144 p.a.). For total remuneration, including bonuses and other discretionary payments, the gap increases to 20.1% (or $25,534) in favour of men. While still high, the gap in both base salary and total remuneration is very slowly narrowing. The national gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time base salary earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. It is a measure of women’s overall position in the paid workforce and does not compare like roles. The industries of finance and insurance services, construction and rental, hiring and real estate still dominate as the industry sectors with the highest gender pay gap.

So where are businesses focusing their gender equality efforts?

Businesses are offering paid parental leave

The WGEA Scorecard shows that for the first time in WGEA’ s seven-year reporting history, the majority of reporting businesses now offer employer-funded paid parental leave. 52.4% of businesses reported that they offer paid primary carer’s leave to both men and women. The average duration of paid parental leave is 10.9 weeks and the majority of businesses providing for paid parental leave offer full pay in addition to the Federal Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme. Employers in the industries of construction, agriculture and professional, scientific and technical services made the biggest gains in establishing enterprise-funded paid parental leave arrangements.

Employers should also consider reviewing their parental leave policies and arrangements to accommodate recent legislative changes to the Australian Government’s Paid Parental Leave Scheme to include flexible parental leave payments. These changes will also be supplemented by amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to require employers to provide flexible unpaid parental leave to eligible employees, in addition to extending parental leave obligations to parents of still born babies.

Businesses are promoting women

Women now comprise nearly 40% of managerial positions with 44.7% of promotions in the reporting period for 2019-2020 going to women across all industries. This is slightly up from last year. Women in key management roles is also slowly increasing to 32.5%; an important area of focus given recent research demonstrating a causal relationship between women in senior management and improved organisational performance. A BankWest Curtin Economics Centre report from July 2020 found that an increase of 10 percentage points or more in the share of female key management personnel led to a 5.8 per cent increase in the likelihood of outperforming their sector on three or more metrics.

Flexible work is spreading

Just over 75% of businesses reported they had a flexible work policy or strategy up from 72.7% last year. Indeed, the impact of the pandemic has no doubt seen a rise in the practices of flexible and/or remote working, being working arrangements likely to continue on an ongoing basis for many employees and occupations. Next year’s results will be interesting to see how remote working, triggered by minimising the risk of spreading COVID-19, will be captured by businesses at a strategic level both operationally and to boost workforce inclusion.

More employer action to support employees experiencing family and domestic violence

Employers with a policy or strategy on family or domestic violence has increased by over 6 percentage points to 66.4% with about 35% of reporting employers offering paid family and domestic violence leave.

What areas are receiving reduced attention from business?

Reduced Action on Pay Equity

While there was an increase in the number of employers undertaking gender equity pay audits (now at 46.4%), there are now fewer organisations taking action to close their gender pay gap as a result of their analysis. The connection between these two actions assumes that employers will find always gender pay gaps in their audits. Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director Libby Lyons has expressed disappointment over these figures and is encouraging businesses to take action. Importantly though, a greater proportion of businesses have implemented formal strategies for pay equity.

Employers looking for further advice and support for taking action on pay equity should contact Ai Group.

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As Ai Group's National Manager – Workplace Relations Policy, Nicola is involved in employment test cases and law reform affecting the workplaces of industry. She regularly appears in the Fair Work Commission and Government Inquiries on behalf of Ai Group members, and has many years of “on the ground” strategic experience in advising employers in employment law and people & culture strategies.

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