Investors could take stronger action to force listed companies to address the gender pay gap – including protest votes against re-election of board members and executive remuneration – according to the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) which found that more than one quarter of ASX100 companies did not have a remuneration policy that explicitly covered gender pay equity.
The report, ‘Gender pay equity and Australian listed companies’, ranks ASX 100 companies that are required by law to make disclosures to the federal government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency on how they are addressing gender-based pay discrimination.
The report, conducted by ACCR and CAER and supported by Future Super, says of the 91 ASX listed companies with WGEA reports, 24 companies confirmed that for the 2017 reporting year (ending May 31, 2017) they did not have a formal remuneration policy that covers gender pay equity.
But companies may have taken more recent action to address the gender pay gap, and this is not captured in the 2017 public reports that ACCR relies on.
ACCR’s executive director, Brynn O’Brien, said if investors engaging with company management behind the scenes did not result in positive change, the next step was going public.
"They [investors] could vote against the election or re-election of directors that are reluctant to engage and they could vote against remuneration reports to register a protest,” she said.
The report described James Hardie Industries, Qube Holdings, Ramsay Health Care and TPG Telecom as ASX 100 “laggards” on gender equality as they were the only ones out of 91 disclosing companies in the 2017 reporting year that had not conducted a gender pay gap analysis. But some have since carried out analysis.
The report said TPG Telecom “is the worst disclosing company and states that they have no formal remuneration policy or strategy, they have never conducted a gender pay gap analysis and provided no details as to why this was the case”.
A spokeswoman for Ramsay Health Care said the company had undertaken gender pay gap analysis in FY2018, which is not captured in this ACCR report.
The companies justify their lack of action on the pay gap by stating salaries are set by awards/industrial or workplace agreements.
"The largest proportion of our workforce is covered by the award or enterprise agreements and there is no gender pay inequity in this workforce," the Ramsay Health Care spokeswoman said.
"For the small proportion of our workforce that is not covered by the Award, overall the analysis showed was very minor variation in gender pay gap and this variation was addressed in the remuneration reviews in July 18."
A Qube spokesman said "we value our people and reject the assumptions and claims of inaction made in this report".
He said industrial awards did deliver pay equality regardless of gender and about 90 per cent of Qube's workforce is employed in that way. "Separately we’ve looked closely at that small non-award group to ensure no gender-based anomalies exist and we’ll continue to do work on that in the future," he said.
But the report said standard pay rates often discriminate against women and fail to consider whether individuals are being categorised in job roles that either underestimate or overestimate their job responsibilities.
Of the 87 companies that undertook a gender pay gap analysis for the 2017 reporting year, 14 companies chose not to take action to address the pay gap. They were Amcor, Ansell, Brambles, BT Investment Management, Cimic Group, CSL, Evolution Mining, Goodman Group, Harvey Norman Holdings, JB Hi-Fi, Medibank Private, Sydney Airport, Xero Limited.
A Xero spokeswoman said the company recently submitted its 2018 WGEA report and "this shows that we undertook a gender pay equity analysis and took action as a result of the analysis".
Sydney Airport said it had also taken action post the ACCR's analysis.
Medibank’s group executive people and culture, Kylie Bishop, said the company has a pay gap goal of less than 1 per cent across the organisation- which it had achieved in the past two years.
She said the employer's leading parental leave policy, which gives 14 weeks of paid leave within the first 24 months to all eligible parents, regardless of whether they are the primary or secondary carer, was an example of how it was moving to address pay gap issues.
A Brambles spokesman said the company conducts annual gender pay gap analysis that is reviewed by its remuneration committee and this had identified that the gender pay gap across the company was "nominal" and improved in FY17.
Ms O'Brien said corporate Australia may be uncomfortable with increased transparency on pay scales, "but having it will put women on equal footing in pay negotiations”.
Australia's full-time total remuneration gender pay gap based on WGEA data is 22.4 per cent with women working full time earning almost $26,527 less a year than a man.
Investor groups in Australia and in the United States have been taking action against companies they believe are not doing enough to promote gender equality.
For example, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) recently exercised its proxy voting power to move against some of the companies that are not moving to appoint women to their boards.