male is equal to female chalkboard sketch

“This is totally unacceptable,” says Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick.

She was commenting in an ABC 702 radio interview with me and my on-air partner Angela Catterns, on the results of a new study released by the Australian government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

It shows Australia’s gender pay gap for male and female graduates has not just stalled – it’s going backwards!

The study found the median gap in starting salaries for male and female graduates increased from $2000 in 2011 to $5000 last year.

Yes, you read that right. The disparity has more than doubled in a year.

When your daughter graduates as a lawyer, her starting salary will be $4,300 less than that for your son doing exactly the same job.

Forget Mad Men. It’s time for Mad Women!

The problem, says Commissioner Broderick (left) is the persistent undervaluation of women’s contribution in the workplace.

“It is extraordinary, in 2013 to think we still have a pay gap of around 17.8 percent,” she said. “It’s a persistent and complex problem and we really need to amp up our activity to ensure that it doesn’t continue.”

The stats show the largest disparity in wages was in architecture and building occupations, at 17.3 percent. The starting salary for male graduates was $52,000 compared with $43,000 for women.

What could be causing it this gap?

“There doesn’t seem to be any rational explanation at all,” said Commissioner Broderick. “The normal explanation put forward is that women are more likely to trade off money for family-friendly work conditions, but you wouldn’t say that would impact on a graduate.

“I do think it comes back to an undervaluing of women’s contributions. In some professions, there is a strong cultural preference for men.”

busy and serious craftswoman grinding timbers

And all this when 2012 was regarded as a high-water mark for Australian women.

As Commissioner Broderick said: “There have been a lot of positives in terms of representation; in terms of paid parental leave schemes and we see more women at leadership level; we have seen a significant increase of women on boards – although there’s still more work to be done.

“This issue goes to the value of men and women’s contribution and it’s still not equal.”

I suggested that Commissioner Broderick must sometimes feel she’s hitting her head against a brick wall – forget the glass ceiling – in trying the get the message through.

She agreed, with a sigh of exasperation. “It requires strong business leadership,” she said. “It requires the people at the top of those organisations to say: ‘You know what? That is not good enough, we are going to look within our own organisations as to whether we are playing men and women the same and where we’re not doing that, we’re going to do something about it’.

“Some of the best employers are starting to do that.”

The study looked at salaries in 23 occupations and found men earned more than women in 13 of them. The pay was the same in education, humanities and medicine.

But what can explain the pay difference of female dentistry graduates who earned 15.7 percent or $14,000 less than men whose median starting salary was $92,000?

I mean, are men any better qualified to look after your teeth?

It’s going to take a big drill to bust our way through this brick wall in 2013. The Hoopla has put this issue on the top of our agenda and will continue to do so.

We’ll be bringing you more news and supporting initiatives to get the message through to employers that our daughters are worth every bit as much as our sons in the nation’s workplaces.

And that we women are equal to the men we work with… In every way.

Writing in Fairfax, Anne Summers says: “In 2009, Julia Gillard, then minister for employment and workplace relations, included provisions for gender pay equity in her Fair Work legislation. But this law does not mandate equal pay, it merely provides that Fair Work Australia can make an order for equal remuneration after an application by an individual, a union or by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

“There has been one spectacularly successful application to date, that by the Australian Services Union on behalf of low-paid workers, mostly women, in the community and services sector. The resulting order from FWA means these workers will receive pay rises of up to 40 percent, phased in over several years, starting last December.

“Such cases are valuable and there needs to be more of them but they can’t cover women in the professions or other non-award covered occupations. Something needs to be done that addresses this inequity in a systemic fashion.

“As the figures make clear, the gender pay gap is a national scandal. It amounts to a gender tax, with women making a disproportionate contribution to the national economy. (And that’s on top of having the kids and doing most of the housework!)”

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