Bridging the gender pay gap begins at home

Turns out not even my granddaughters will get equal pay for equal work.

That’s the miserable prediction of a new report by Oxfam Australia, which says it will be 75 years before women are recognised for the work they do.

Helen Szoke, the chief executive of Oxfam Australia, said: “The gap between women and men is yet another form of inequality afflicting G20 countries and it remains entrenched, despite the gains that have undoubtedly been made in some areas.”

Well, yes, and she and her team have three key tips for G20 members about correcting the problem: Fix the systemic bias, repair fiscal policy and, while they are at it, make sure there are decent work and social protections.

That’s sorted. Mind you, just two years ago, G20 leaders committed to tackling the barriers to women’s full economic and social participation and to expanding opportunities for women in their countries and they wrote it all out very nicely in the Los Cabos Declaration. Sadly, in every single country in the world, we are still waiting.

And there’s something else we are all working towards. Or should be.


 Marian Baird puts it bluntly. She is professor of employment relations and director of the Women Work Research Group in the University of Sydney Business School so she has a very firm grasp of how all the numbers work. And Baird says that the pay gap in average weekly earnings for women has budged.

And another serious issue, in her view, is that while women are doing more paid work, they are also still doing the bulk of the unpaid work. And there’s only so much work anyone can do in a 24-hour day.

“Women are really being stretched,” she says. “They are doing more of the paid work but they are not getting reciprocal effort from men in the home.”

In other words, men are still not doing enough of the undervalued, unpaid and essential domestic labour that makes our society work. And it’s just not possible for women to participate fully if men are not doing the heavy lifting of the mop, the broom and the toilet seat.

Here are some figures from 2010, in research carried out by the University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research for the Office of Women. It’s a strange study in some respects because it uses data from men who self-reported that they did 30 per cent or more of housework and childcare. So, already pretty unusual.

Yes, lovely blokes, please don’t email me with your anecdata about how you put in. Of course there are people like you – but you are in the minority. But even in this group of contributors, there was still a big disparity. Women did 17 hours of housework a week compared with men’s 13 hours; and when it came to childcare, women did 32 hours compared with 23.

Of the time men spent looking after their kids, they were doing what is described as supervising or monitoring. And we all know how that goes. I can promise you that when my kids were in my care, being supervised or monitored, I was also trying to respond to emails, work phone calls and working on what passed for a home computer in the olden days.

I’m not belittling the contribution that many men make – my children have certainly benefited from seeing both of their parents contribute equally to the kind of work a family requires (it’s a lot, especially when both parents work full-time). But I also have seen the data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which shows that where women are the main breadwinners, men are still doing four hours less housework than their partners. Tell me how that works. How is it possible that when you are coming home after a full week’s work, you still have to put in four extra hours of cooking, cleaning, organising, shopping?

Greg Jericho, a datasplainer par excellence, writes in his Grogonomics blog: “When you combine hours worked in employment, housework and childcare, men come off looking like a bunch of lazy, couch-lying, TV-watching sloths.”

I have a friend who has daughters. Her tactic has been to ensure that the girls have absolutely no domestic skills whatsoever. They can’t cook. They wouldn’t know one end of a broom from the other. And from the look of them, the whole clothes cleaning and ironing thing is outsourced. Which is fine. But I fear for our families if the only way to make sure we get some gender equity happening around housework is to ensure that no one knows how to do any.

Women, sorry to give you more emotional work, but your job now is to hand over the toilet brush to your (male) partner. Doesn’t matter if he’s not as good as you are at it. No one cares. And if he complains, tell him he’s helping with the gender pay gap.

If we want to fix the gender pay gap, we need to fix the housework gap. Equality begins at home, in the kitchen, the bathroom and the loo.

Twitter @jennaprice or email