What is the gender pay gap – and what does it have to do with preventing violence against women?

Addressing the gender pay gap is one way we can promote women’s independence and decision-making.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has begun publishing the gender pay gap from employers with a workforce of 100 or more employees. The reporting measures the difference in earnings between women and men across organisations, industries and the wider Australian workforce.  

Accountability and action to address the gender pay gap is a significant step in achieving increased workforce participation and broader economic growth. It’s also an important contributor to preventing violence by promoting women’s independence and decision-making.

A review of literature from the UK has shown that in the seven years since mandatory publication of pay gap data was introduced, employers have:

  • increased understanding of, and engagement with, the gender pay gap – both broadly in society, and specifically with the contributing factors in their organisation
  • improved their gender pay gap and taken additional action to promote gender equality
  • experienced no negative reaction from employees.  

The transparency is also contributing to strong recruitment and being an employer of choice – in the UK, women have reported they would prefer to accept lower pay than work for the employer with the highest pay gap in their industry.

Is the gender pay gap the same as equal pay? Don’t we already have that?

It’s common for “gender pay gap”, “equal pay” and “workplace equality” to get mixed up – they are related but distinct ideas.  

Equal pay means receiving the same pay for the same job, regardless of gender. It's been a legal requirement in Australia since 1969. But even with almost 50 years of equal pay, Australia still has a significant gender pay gap. Equal pay alone doesn’t create workplace equality.  

The gender pay gap describes the difference in average earnings between women and men in the workforce. It’s an important figure because it helps shine a light on the impact of the social and economic factors that reduce women’s abilities to earn – and therefore financial independence – over their career and into retirement. 

 What causes the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap can be the product of harmful assumptions about gender. In the workplace, these assumptions can look like automatically classifying some industries or roles as being “men’s work” or “women’s work” – for instance high-risk work such as mining and construction being seen as masculine, and caring professions (often with lower wages) seen as feminine. People with caring responsibilities (often women) can be overlooked for managerial or senior roles.  

Gender inequality is not experienced in the same way by everyone in the workforce. For instance, people facing other forms of discrimination such as racism, ableism or homophobia will experience workplace gender inequality in different ways to those who do not. This can have a compounding effect, widening the pay gap even more for First Nations people, people with disability, people who identify as LGBTIQA+, and culturally and racially marginalised people. 

What does the pay gap have to do with violence against women?

When a workplace or industry pays women less based on gender assumptions, it sends the message that they are of less value than men, and therefore less worthy of respect – making violence against them more likely.  

Not only does that pay gap mean that men effectively have much greater control of decision-making over the resources and policies that impact women’s lives, but it also means women are less financially secure. We know that violence is more common in relationships in which men control decision-making, and less so when women have a greater level of independence. We also know that financial security is a key factor in the decision or ability to leave a violent relationship

Workplace equality measures – like closing the pay gap – are important because they promote the independence and decision-making that is key part of addressing the culture that drives gender-based violence.

Where can I learn more about addressing inequality and closing the gender pay gap in my organisation?

WGEA has many resources to build your gender equality strategy, including capacity building masterclasses.  

Our Watch provides tools for violence prevention in workplaces.  

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