The great gender pay divide
Women have every right to be paid fairly and stand up for themselves. Photo: Tamara Voninski
So, a little war broke out at the end of last week between those whose job it is to make sure we have equality in our workplaces and those who analyse what our university graduates do and how much they get paid.
Yes, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and Graduate Careers Australia (GCA) had a slight fracas about who gets paid what and when.
It began when the WGEA (new name of EOWA, just keep up, will you) sent out a press release which said that the gender pay gap had doubled in the last 12 months.
That was based on statistics supplied by GCA and then interpreted by WGEA . First news of the increasing gap emerged on Thursday afternoon and by Friday, it was everywhere.
Late that afternoon, Australian Associated Press released a story which said the GCA policy and strategy adviser Bruce Guthrie claimed the agency had read data from its annual Australian Graduate Survey in an ''overly simplistic'' way.
But when I look at the material supplied by the GCA itself, it says there is a 10 per cent gap in what men and women are paid when they go into graduate jobs.
Guthrie tells me that once you get rid of the engineers and others where men dominate, you get a different and not quite so frightening set of numbers.
I'll admit, I was horrified to read that the pay gap had doubled in a year - but no more horrified than I am at the gender pay gap which exists already and is not changing. Let's focus on fixing that before another generation of young women becomes dispirited at what is clearly discriminatory practice.
According to the tables based on figures from the GCA and interpreted by the WGEA, education, humanities, medicine, all have the pay gap sorted - they offer equal pay for equal qualifications and jobs - so why can't other professions catch up? In pharmacy, women graduates are now earning more than male graduates - and there is no question that pharmacy must have struggled to make a cultural change since that's a profession which was male-dominated for decades. Maybe it is something to do with the fact that the majority of pharmacy graduates are women - around two-thirds, says the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. It may also be because they dominate the top performers at graduation. It might also be difficult to pay more to people who do less well. I joke. Kind of.
Carla Harris, the research executive manager at WGEA, says: ''Every workplace culture is different and there is no one size-fits-all answer but all employers must start by taking this pay gap seriously - many employers don't take it seriously and don't realise it is bad for business.''
And she also said that there is still a culture of denial around the gender pay gap.
"We spend so much time denying it and pretending it is not there … we need to stop being in denial about it and take it very seriously."
Which is precisely what the people at the Pharmacy Guild of Australia did. David Quilty, the executive director for the PGA, says the organisation has done a lot of educational work with pharmacies all over Australia to emphasise the importance of employing women pharmacists.
He says that pharmacy as a career is in demand by women and that women are seen as important staff members by pharmacy employers.
"The pharmacist's role is very much about providing advice and nurturing support for patients," says Quilty, who believes that the majority of pharmacy customers are women and that it is mainly women who deal with the pharmaceutical needs of their families.
But he also says: "Sexism is bad for business - and it makes no sense in pharmacy, quite the opposite."
Which makes you wonder about all those companies, organisations, businesses which have not yet made the cultural leap. Do we have to change the way we teach our daughters to be in the workplace? Can we move from a nation which right now only pays women slightly more than 80 per cent of what men earn - and which still allows for a conversation which says: "Women earn less because they have children." Families have children.
As Harris says: "Women have every right to be paid fairly and stand up for themselves. The broader issue is that when women do stand up for themselves it is perceived quite negatively … a man is seen as being a leader and a woman is seen as being pushy."
So maybe what we really need to do is to teach our daughters and sisters to be pushy. And then to just push back when women are described as aggressive just for the reason of wanting to have what their husbands, fathers and brothers have always had.