Feminism Equal Pay Day 2020, another year with no change. How do we combat the Gender Pay Gap?

Another year has passed, and we are no further in closing the gender pay gap!

Why is this? 

This year I'm going to delve more deeply into some of the influences on the gender pay gap and gender discrimination as I don't believe we can tackle one aspect of this issue, without addressing them all. 

Socialisation and Social Norms

Let's start with a more prominent issue – socialisation of girls and boys in childhood. We know that the female brain does not differ from the male brain in any functional way. While there are differences in hormones, contrary to popular belief, women do not naturally think differently to men – any differences in the way women and men act is purely socially influenced. While of course, there are differences in physique, there are no differences in brain function. To put it more simply, how women act, lead and think is entirely down to how women are socialised as children and how societal norms influence their sense of self. The same goes for men.

The brain is an organ, and the more it is used to perform specific tasks, the better it becomes at those tasks. If the brain is influenced to use specific neural pathways repeatedly, over time, it defaults to particular ways of doing things, much like a worn shortcut taken across grass.

Without consciously realising, many of us (both women and men) talk to and socialise female and male children differently, creating a way of thinking that is life-altering. We buy them gendered gifts, socialise them into liking certain colours, comment on how pretty a girl's clothes are and tell boys how clever and strong they are. We, as a society, feed gender inequality daily with a social bias we aren't even aware of. Telling someone they are clever and strong, giving praise for being assertive and buying gifts that encourage problem-solving, results in self-belief, confidence, spatial awareness etc. Whereas telling someone they're beautiful, teaching them to be polite, telling them to stop being bossy and buying them caregiving and nurturing gifts, may intend to give self-confidence, but in adulthood creates people-pleasers, can create eating disorders, low self-esteem and a lot of impostor syndrome.

Social scientists focusing on gender have discovered that girls outperform boys academically through their entire lives in arts and humanities, and in mathematics and science, perform slightly higher or equally. At University, women outperform men in enrolment rates, completion rates and academic scoring. Still, they are underrepresented in Engineering and Science – purely due to socialisation as children, not because of academic ability. Yet, in all areas of business and politics, women are underrepresented and are pushed into jobs and careers that are beneath their skill set. This is in part due to lack of flexibility, and in part due to hitting the glass ceiling.

In fact, the gender bias in favour of men in adulthood starts at graduation from University. Data show that in graduate programs offered by big business, women are paid less than men from the outset, doing the same role, despite having higher or comparable graduation marks.

In TV ads and TV shows, women are represented as busy emotional Mum's, and men are depicted as clueless Dads getting up to mischief using power tools and utes or as businessmen in stressful jobs. Women on news and opinion shows follow the same visual profiles of body type, hair and clothes, are nearly always young, and are often have to put up with underlying sexism on air by their male colleagues. More recently, Lisa Wilkinson left the Today show due to finding out she was paid less than her male co-host Karl Stefanovic and spoke about the gendered comments she received from the public while on air. As an experiment, Karl wore the same suit for a year to see if anyone noticed or commented. They didn't.

How does this feed into the gender pay gap? If society sees women as objects to be critiqued, if they don't fit into the stereotype of a busy, emotional subordinate Mum, then these subconscious judgements flow into every aspect of our lives and create bias we aren't even conscious of. The result is preferential treatment of those that don't receive criticism – which in Australia is overwhelmingly white men.


Gender bias in politics is perhaps the second most apparent bias in Australian society. Australia has had only one female prime minister, yet that was only the case due to a party spill, not an election. It is widely thought that a female leader of a political party in Australia today would still be unlikely to be elected into power. The treatment of Julia Gillard by the media and the public was astonishing, from the opposition treatment of her resulting in her misogyny speech to headlines discussing her personal life, to shock jock Alan Jones stating her father died of shame. Despite the Gillard government achieving more than any other Australian government in history, discourse is still focused on what she didn't do, how much people disliked her, the fact she wasn't married, and of course what she wore.

More recently, Julie Bishop was treated terribly by her fellow ministers and should have been the next Prime Minister after Malcolm Turnbull. Instead, support was given to our current Prime Minister, who at that point was someone that only 54% of Australians even knew existed. The party, rather than support a woman who was the Deputy at the time and elected to that position by the public, chose someone who almost half of the public had never heard of to be Prime Minister. 

In the opposition, Tanya Plibersek – the favourite to lead the Labor party after Bill Shorten stepped down, decided against the position due to family commitments. The Shadow Deputy Prime Minister had trouble juggling her home and work-life balance, something men never state as something holding them back. Statistics show Australian women still do most if not all domestic and child care regardless of whether they work full or part-time. This unpaid labour is also a contributor to the gender pay gap and is the main reason many women only work part-time, as free childcare does not exist.

To draw a comparison with countries similar in structure to ours, in the UK, Canada and some of Europe, governments subsidise up to 30 hours of free childcare per week for eligible families, and the means tests are much less strict (Australian means-testing on all subsidies and welfare benefits are some of the most rigid and restrictive in the world). Many corporates have childcare in the office buildings for their employees – whereas most Australian corporates have gyms and cafes. Much of Europe offers flexitime which allows staff to come and go from work as they please outside of core hours of 10.30 am – 2.30 pm which are the only hour's meetings are held, allowing parents of all genders to do school runs without being ostracised. 

Politics reflects who holds power in society, and their policies (or lack thereof) reflect what those in power deem essential or not. In Australia, the power resides with men, and policies regarding women, are practically non-existent. There is an even smaller representation of Indigenous women. Scholars state the hierarchy in Australia is in the order of White Men, Men of Colour, White Women, Women of Colour.


The Australian individualist culture is based on Neoliberal ideals of competition, free-market capitalism, meritocracy and the premise that we are all responsible for our lot in life. Neoliberal discourse states that those who don't do well didn't try hard enough, that we all have the same opportunities in life, and are all responsible for our destiny (the 'fair go'). Women are socialised to believe that if they don't get into positions they deserve, it was because they weren't up to the job, or just didn't have the right experience, or didn't get the role due to time out to have children. Remember, women in Australia are more highly educated than men, with 91.1% of women aged 20-24, holding year 12 qualifications or above, compared to 88.8% of men, and 44.5% women aged 25-29, achieved a bachelor degree or above, compared to 32.2% of men. The pattern is the same up to the baby-boomer generation.

The constant media portrayal of women as mothers first and human beings with careers second has a massive impact on how women are seen in our culture. Normalising of gender stereotypes of women and men has a profoundly negative effect on our society.

It should also be noted that the 3rd wave of feminism was pretty non-existent in Australia, leaving our society rampant with stereotypes and attitudes that were tackled overseas in the '90s.


Which leads me to the economic effects of the gender pay gap. Now that you have some understanding of the cultural, political and social structures that are stacked against women, it is no surprise that the gender pay gap persists. Men favour men in hiring practices - often without consciously realising, and many women do the same. This is due to the socialisation and cultural norms that have influenced perception for our entire lives. As a result, women are not represented in leadership positions to their competency levels, are paid less, and have less superannuation. 

Some of the excuses for the gender pay gap range from women being bad negotiators of pay rises (reflecting the blame onto the individual), time out of the workforce, and lack of competency (I think we've covered that one already). There is some speculation that women don't apply for jobs they aren't 100% sure they can do. 

There is some merit to that last point. Scientists have found that due to women seeing the poor treatment that other women receive in high positions, some choose not to apply, or they make sure they are overqualified before they go for a job to limit the potential backlash they might receive. Still, in the scheme of things, this accounts for a tiny percentage of the gap.

That aside, women are still being paid on average 14% less than men, with that being much higher in male-dominated fields such as construction (as high as 27%). It is hard to argue that this persistent inequality isn't, for the most part, borne out of direct and straightforward bias. WGEA state bias that preferences hiring and promoting men is likely the main reason the gender pay gap still exists. 

To solve this issue, we, of course, need business owners to step up and pay their staff equally, and hire more women in leadership positions. Still, we also need legislation passed through parliament that results in real tangible consequences when disregarded. This, however, is unlikely to happen.

Our list of suggestions:

  • All businesses should offer flexible working arrangements to all employees, including the ability to work from home. We hope that the pandemic has shown that this is easily achievable. Note that men, as well as women, need to be encouraged to use flexible working arrangements as they benefit everyone. Flexibility is NOT a benefit to be looked upon as female. When I worked in the UK, we successfully implemented flexible working arrangements in the early 2000s, which were used equally by women and men. Our surveys six months later showed less sick leave taken, higher productivity, fewer turnover rates, and happier staff. Don't underestimate the benefits.
  • Gender quotas need to be enforced in businesses by businesses, and we believe we need to ask politicians to add this to Fair Work legislation. This does not mean putting women in positions they don't deserve; it's putting women in jobs they DO deserve but are passed up due to gender bias.
  • We need the government to make reporting on pay rates and positions mandatory, with consequences for those who don't follow the rules. Surveys and voluntary reporting don't show the real picture.
  • We need to support women in STEM, women in business and women in politics. When we sat down with Ambassador to the United Nations Gillian Bird a couple of years ago, she said that when women get in power, they nearly always make life better for other women. Support women politicians, and vote based on policies, not media hype or existing loyalty to a party.

NOTE: At present, the Australian government believes the gender pay gap to be an issue in the market that needs to be solved by the market. It does not have any interest in legislating policies to enforce the closing of the gender pay gap. Please write to your MP and find out which politicians support women, and support them in future elections.

But most importantly, feminism and gender equality mean just that – equality. It does not mean women over men, man-hating or putting men down. We can never be great until we are equal. We need to design a new Australia by all genders, for all genders.

#keepmindingthegap #equalpayday #equalpayday2020


Habibis, Daphne, and Maggie Walter. 2015. Social inequality in Australia: discourses, realities and futures. 2nd ed. Victoria, Australia: Oxford University Press.

McLachlan, Rosalie, Geoff Gilfillan, and Jenny Gordon. 2013. Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia. edited by Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper. Canberra.

Ting, Shun, Francisco Perales, and Janeen Baxter. 2016. "Gender, ethnicity and the division of household labour within heterosexual couples in Australia." Journal of Sociology 52 (4): 693-710. https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783315579527.