Press Conference – Parliament House

Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, Minister for the Public Service

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, good morning everyone. Thanks for coming. I’m joined here by Mary Wooldridge who’s the Chief Executive of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, and all questions on detail should go to Mary. So, I’m just putting that out at the front. But we’ve got a busy day today so really great to see you all here, it’s an important day for this, an Australian first where we are publishing the gender pay gaps of companies with 100 or more employees across the country. This data has been collected for a decade, but we have reported it at industry level, not at business level. And this was a change that was supported by the whole Parliament about a year ago to allow WGEA the time to use the data that they had collected. And really the decision that the Parliament took, and certainly the government made, was to add some more transparency and accountability to what’s going on in individual workplaces to make sure boards know what’s happening in their workplaces, to make sure employees know what’s happening in their workplaces. And really importantly, so that businesses themselves, conscious of their results, can look at ways – if they need to – to make progress about closing that gender pay gap. So, this is about transparency and accountability. It’s about the fact that we still have a persistent and substantial gender pay gap in this country. The ABS, whilst it’s coming down – the ABS results last week I think have it at 12 per cent. When you look at total remuneration, it’s bigger than that, and Mary can talk to that. So, there’s a, you know – I think something had to change. And the fact that you’re all here, the fact that there’s been articles written about it, the fact that businesses are responding, in a sense is showing that this is a success already because we are talking about it. And part of that will force change, I’m very confident of that.

So, I might hand to Mary now to talk through the details of the results. But you know, there is a substantial problem in this country when you’ve got essentially two thirds of businesses with a gender pay gap in favour of men. And we need to be honest about it. It’s not about shaming, it’s not about naming, it’s not about saying men should be paid less. It’s none of those things. It’s about driving that change that we need to see in organisations to make sure that women are getting a fair crack at opportunity and that we’re closing the gender pay gap over time. It’s complex. There’s no silver bullet, but this is part of the response. And just before I hand to Mary, happy to take questions at the end of this. It would be good if we could do questions on this first before we go to other matters of the day. Mary, over to you.

MARY WOOLDRIDGE, CEO, WORKPLACE GENDER EQUALITY AGENCY: Fantastic. Thanks, Minister, and good morning everyone. It is a really significant day today for gender equality in Australian workplaces. And we’re both embedding transparency as a key part of our approach to gender equality, but also progressing our understanding about equality in workplaces. It’s both complexities and the value and why it’s important to change. The new information that we’ve published today of nearly 5,000 medium and large Australian employers enhances that transparency and accountability so that companies – we know how companies are performing today, how they’re performing against their peers, but also, because we will be reporting this every year, we’ll be able to track their progress over time. And the solutions, as the Minister said, can be really complex, but change takes action and publishing the gender pay gaps equips employers, employees, investors, customers, everyone with that information so that people and employers can be motivated to embark on that journey and make the change and improvements that are needed.

From WGEA’s perspective, we have a critical role collecting and publishing the gender pay gap data as well as broader gender equality indicators, but we also have a critical role working with employers to support them to understand why this change is important and how we translate that knowledge that they have into action and outcomes at the workplace level. So today, we’ve published the median gender pay gaps for base salaries and for total remuneration and we’ve also published gender composition by pay quartiles. And employers were given the option to provide what we’re calling an employer statement where they can articulate anything they like really, but particularly we suggested, their identification of what’s driving the gaps, but also what they’re doing about it. And we’re very pleased that approximately 800 employers have already taken that opportunity to provide an employer statement. And we’ll certainly be encouraging others to continue to do that to showcase their understanding of the issues and what they’re doing about it to make progress.

So, in terms of the results, when we look at employers, half of employers have a gender pay gap greater than 9.1 per cent. And we know this is an important measure because employers regularly compare themselves to their peers and this, we’ve seen from overseas, is a key motivator for change. As the Minister mentioned, nearly two thirds of employers have a gender pay gap that favours men. About a third have what we’re calling a neutral gender pay gap, that’s a pay gap close to zero, and about 8 per cent are actually in favour of women. But when you look at every industry across the board, the gender pay gap is in favour of men. It is a complex issue and in that, in terms of the profile, even in the highest companies and industries like construction, professional services, the financial services industries, some gender pay gaps are actually close to zero, while others may be 30, 40 and 50 per cent. So, it’s doable. Change is possible. It just takes that motivation and it takes that action.

For employers, this does set a benchmark on their progress. And it’s fair to say some are very focused on that and others still need to turn their minds to it and they have more work to do to ensure that they can improve their employee experience each and every day. Every employer’s solution is going to be different. It’s not a one size fits all, but what it does take is analysis, planning, KPIs and it does take a team to lead the process to drive that change. It’s really important also to say that gender equality benefits everyone. It’s often talked about in the context of women and the fact that they, relative to men, are underpaid. But we know there’s also a number of really big opportunities for men, including the uptake of parental leave and flexible work. We need to ensure that a future of work sees earning and caring as something that is common and ideally equal for both men and women.

So, this is the first year of publication, and it will progress over time. We are purposefully taking a cautious approach and working with employers and stakeholders to get it right. We’re listening to feedback, and this will evolve over time. We’re very positive in terms of the fact that this information will grow and expand and continue to provide a useful source of both the catalyst for debate and the information that can inform decisions in the future. Public accountability is a really important part of employer performance. And in relation to gender pay gaps, we know that it’s going to be an important accelerator of change. And interestingly with more boards, and chief executives shown to have a causal relationship with company performance in terms of productivity, profitability and value, the investor community are now increasingly seeing gender equality as an important assessment of a company’s performance as well. So now, employees, prospective employees, customers, investors are equipped with the information they need to make decisions about a company’s performance and how they’re progressing over time. This is a call for action on gender equality, and behind every interest – every piece of data, every number in terms of the gender pay gap, is an employee who is having a better experience as that gender pay gap decreases.

So that’s what we want to achieve. A reduction in the gender pay gap, an improvement in the employee experience so that everyone at work can be equally and fairly valued and rewarded.

GALLAGHER: Thanks, Mary. And just in closing, I want to acknowledge your leadership, Mary, and that of the organisation you lead, WGEA. I’ve had the privilege of visiting them and seeing the work they do. They’re a small but mighty and dedicated team that have put a lot of work into this. They liaise very closely with businesses to make sure that, you know, the data is correct. And yeah, just want to acknowledge that. It’s a big effort and WGEA have done a fantastic job.

The final – sorry, the final thing – I can see we’re ready to go. I note some comments by the Opposition this morning that this data, I think to quote Matt Canavan, is “the most useless set of data that a government agency has ever collected.” I would just say that this is data that’s been collected for 10 years, it did pass the Parliament unanimously with the support of the Opposition. I completely reject those assertions. This is important data and I hope that Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley will distance themselves from those comments as well.

JOURNALIST: There’s an idea floating around that the government should stop giving money, grants, contracts to companies that have a substantial gender pay gap. What do you make of that? And my other one is, I’m interested – you said only about 800 companies have given statements of what they’re doing about this. Was there any correlation between those companies and were they doing better on the gender pay gap? And would you like to see something like what’s happening in Victoria, where every employer has to say what they’re going to do about this?

GALLAGHER: Okay, I’ll start. On procurement, I think there are arguments for government to be looking at how they, you know – I guess ethical and other standards with whom they do business with. This is a piece of work that’s before me, not specifically on gender but that’s part of it, around making sure that taxpayers’ dollars, and we’re a big purchaser of suppliers, contracts and, you know, other purchases that mean we do have purchasing power. And we can use that power to make sure that we’re delivering other outcomes as well. So, I think we’ve made that clear through our Buy Australian plan. You know, I get a lot of feedback from suppliers and others that they want to be treated fairly and they want good, you know, ethical and social behaviour to be rewarded. So, that is something that I’m looking at.

WOOLDRIDGE: And on the employer statement, we’re really pleased with the response of 800 so far, and I’ve got to say, they’ve been coming in thick and fast even overnight. Some people have been working late to get them done, so, we haven’t yet been able to do the analysis in terms of the correlation, but from having a look, just in terms of who’s there and having a look at some of the links, it’s a wide range of companies in lots of different contexts. And we will encourage employers to continue to write an employer statement and to upload that information to connect to their gender pay gap information. But it is optional, so everyone we get is another company that has consciously grappled with the issue and is looking into how they can articulate and demonstrate the change they are seeking to make.

JOURNALIST: Minister, beyond potentially flexing your purchasing power, how else will this help you work to reduce the gender pay gap?

GALLAGHER: Well, I mean for me, and I think the most important thing, and we’ve seen it in the coverage today, has been the transparency and the conversation around it. You know, I mean, we’re doing a whole range of other things, obviously. Banning pay secrecy clauses, we’ve got the Fair Work Commission now has to consider gender in the work that they do with gender equality panels, things like that. You know, it’s informing gender analysis is informing some of the decisions we’ve taken about our minimum wage submissions. It’s taken into consideration in the money we provided to aged care workers, highly feminised industry. So, this works alongside that. I mean, we’ve made it clear that driving economic equality for women is a key economic priority for this government. And so, everything, you know, all the decisions we take, we do consider gender as part of that. And this is complementary to that. But you know, it’s not a matter of the government coming out saying you have to do this, this or this. This is about saying, this is where you’re at. It’s public, there’ll be conversations about it, there’ll be – you good people will write lists and league tables and all the rest of it, and that will drive change. I have no doubt about it.

JOURNALIST: Just on the further information, as we talked about, that 800 number of companies that have provided reasons as to why this has happened. Within maybe – I don’t know, is there a timeframe, within maybe a year that you do want to see these companies coming out with more information? Is there anything that punitive? And can I ask as well regarding the issue of fewer women at the higher end, like fewer CEOs and that, are there reforms that government can take to stop that from continuing to be such a persistent issue. You’ve done a lot on child care already. Do we need to do more in terms of universal child care or whatever, because we keep seeing that top end, not enough of women in those CEO positions, just continuing to be an issue?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think, firstly, there’s a lot in that to unpack. But on the – gender segregation is a real issue in this country. And so you’re talking about at the leadership level, but the fact that we have highly gender segregated industries, whether it be in construction or in the feminised industries, is a real problem. And there are things that government can do, particularly in our skills and training and places that we fund, to start trying to drive that change. But some of this has to happen at primary school level, unfortunately. And you know, Mary, and others will talk about this, those norms, the cultural norms about what young girls and women do, what’s expected of them, the work they have to go into, the level they’ll go into when they pursue their career, it’s sort of, you know – it’s infiltrating at school level. So, there isn’t one solution to it. We’ve got to look at it from the education point of view, we’ve got to look at it in skills and training, we’ve got to look at it that legislation like this, that we can pass. We’ve got to keep talking about gender equality, we’ve got our national strategy for gender equality that will come out next week. That’s the first time that we’ve had one in this country. That’ll look at a range of ways to drive gender equality across Australia.

And yes, there’s things to do. Like even in the public service here, you know, I’ve been contacted by people at EL2 level that say once you get to that level it’s too hard to be part time. You know, we don’t support women when they’ve got those caring responsibilities, you know, and so they make choices about their career. And we want to see a change to that too. So, flexible working arrangements, is a key to that. Making sure job sharing is a real choice and job sharing at senior levels is a real choice. And what we’ve seen and it’s in your snapshot, Mary, is where women CEOs are in place, where the board membership is more equally balanced, they’ve got lower gender pay gaps. The evidence is pretty clear on that.

JOURNALIST: There were a number of ASX 200 companies with more than 100 staff that don’t appear to have reported gender pay gaps. How many companies were non-compliant with this exercise? And what are the penalties for non-compliance? Do you think they’re sufficient?

WOOLDRIDGE: So, we released the list of those companies who have been named as non-compliant in January, so they are listed on our website. And from memory, there is 250, something in that order, that are listed. From the ASX 200, there’s actually a number of reasons that we may not collect them and we’re happy to look at individual circumstances. But we’re confident that we have – the companies that are expected to report, do report and if there’s any issues or challenges, we work through. Often it is because they don’t have 100 or more employees in Australia, which is the threshold for the requirement.

JOURNALIST: And on penalties for non-compliance?

WOOLDRIDGE: So, on that, the requirements – there’s two penalties in the Act, or two consequences in the Act. One, we can name those companies who are non-compliant. And secondly, that companies that are non-compliant with the Workplace Gender Equality Act are not able to tender for government contracts above a certain threshold. So, procurement is already being used as a measure to require reporting under the Act.

JOURNALIST: The UK has had very similar laws to these for some time and there’s been some frustration, particularly in that jurisdiction, over the lack of progress in closing the gap despite these disclosure regimes. Why would Australia be different, or why do you hope Australia will be different?

WOOLDRIDGE: So, we do take the evidence base from the UK where the gaps are coming down, and importantly, that that reduction has been sustained over time. So, we all want to accelerate change and we will continue to do it. We do do a few things differently from the UK. We’re requiring that these reports that WGEA provides to employers go to the board to inform the discussion, and that doesn’t happen in that context. And secondly, the UK doesn’t have a Workplace Gender Equality Agency that actually works actively. So, we see our role as twofold. Not only reporting the numbers, but actually working with employers to build their capacity to drive this change. And so we think we’ve got the framework there to accelerate in terms of the objective we’re seeking to achieve.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of understanding the data, is it your experience that you know, women and men for the same job are earning the same and then it’s women aren’t rising through the ranks for whatever structural reasons? Is that it? Or is there still a discrepancy for like-to-like jobs?

WOOLDRIDGE: Of course, equal pay for equal work has been the law for more than 50 years and so that is a bit of a baseline. And the Fair Work Commission looks at individual cases and contexts where that’s not the case. But the fact that the gender pay gap also includes a compositional element is fundamental to the results that we get and the bigger gap and those differentials. So, what we see overall is that in the highest earning group, men are twice as likely to be in that group than women, and in the lowest earning group, women are 50 per cent more likely to be there than men. So, we do see this big differential in terms of those high earning roles being masculinised and the lower earning roles being feminised. And that really goes to the heart of a number of the issues that we need to change to improve these numbers.

GALLAGHER: Mark, and then I’ll go David. I’ve got to be a bit more like Jim Chalmers, don’t I? A bit less kind of, you know, whatever.

JOURNALIST: Minister, it seems pretty clear from these numbers that those companies that have a high proportion of women in management positions have a lower gender pay gap. So, is your advice to the boards of those companies that need to do better, to perhaps take a lead from politics or certain political parties and impose either formal or informal quotas by recruiting women actively for management positions?

GALLAGHER: Well, I’m a big believer in quotas. And I think the evidence is very clear. Where you have them, they deliver. And you know, there’s a classic example right here in this Parliament between the Labor and Liberal parties on that front. I think the snapshot shows very clearly the link between a gender equal board, you know, women in leadership positions, and a smaller gender pay gap. And I don’t think that’s any surprise really to me. And I think many boards are realising this and they are making the change, and I know many boards that are actively out recruiting women. Not only because, you know, it’s good for business, but because it’s showing they’re more productive companies as well. There’s evidence around that as well. So, I would certainly encourage – I don’t think we would be anywhere near imposing, for example, the Labor Party rules on anyone – but certainly encouraging companies to look at this data seriously, to look at what’s happening in those companies that are performing well and see what a difference you can make, because a gender equal, you know, workplace is good for everybody.

WOOLDRIDGE: Can I just add to that, because important context is that we’ve got to develop the pipeline. We can’t just, you know – it’s not a successful outcome if companies are just poaching senior women from each other without growing the pool. And so, this will be a journey that we need to go on that shifts those dynamics that women don’t work in construction, or in mining, and change those expectations on stereotypes so that we can grow the pool of women who are able to take on those senior roles and ensure they are participating equally at the highest levels.

JOURNALIST: Just on consumer power, there were some brand names in the information today that we all know that have pretty appalling numbers today. What’s your message to Australian consumers? Should they go into a store and say, sorry, you’re not getting my money because your track record is just woeful here? Or should they go in and say, I’m giving you my money, but I’m going to stop in the future if you don’t lift your game? What would you like consumers to do with these brand name companies to send them a message?

GALLAGHER: Well, that’s really at the heart of the publication of this data, isn’t it? I mean, before this data was published companies could hide behind industry averages. And some in those industries were doing really well and making a huge effort and they were being poorly kind of reflected upon because of the outliers, or the ones that weren’t doing anything. So, for me, giving consumers the knowledge, giving them the information, I mean, they do – what they do with that is up to them. But this is all about, I think, shining some light, because when sunlight is put on things like this – I mean, look at the conversation we’re having today. People change their behaviour, and that’s what we’re hoping for here.

JOURNALIST: Just looking at the PM&C organisational chart, the Office for Women is by far the smallest team.


JOURNALIST: How many staff actually work in the Office for Women and is that sufficient for Labor to actually meet its objectives on gender equality?

GALLAGHER: It is another small but mighty part of the APS. I can definitely say that, and shout out to the Office for Women who, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, are working harder than they probably should. It’s, look, – I think the ASL is in the order of 60 to 70 full-time equivalent. But part of what we’re trying to do here – they are our expert hub within the APS. What we are trying to do is drive gender equality and understanding about gender impacts through the APS. So we’re requiring, for example, on cabinet submissions and things like that, the Budget, that departments actually do that work. They consult with the Office of Women, but it’s not the Office of Women’s job to be the only part of the APS that thinks about gender equality. So, they are an expert group. I’m sure they would love many more staff, as most areas of the APS would, I should say. They’re very talented, they punch well above their weight. But this is about a whole, you know – not this issue – but our strategy on gender is a whole-of-public-service effort. And we’re really driving that hard and ministers are working with me on that.

JOURNALIST: Are you pushing to see that team grow?

GALLAGHER: Look, as Minister for Finance, this is where I’m slightly conflicted, because I am keeping an eye on ASL numbers. But you know – they’re within the PM&C, so we work within PM&C’s broader staffing allocation. That’s a very Minister for Finance answer to that question.

JOURNALIST: I think as of 2022, the government had about 65 programs supporting women in STEM. I was just wondering what types of government-led programs do you think are most effective in supporting equality in the private sector? And a question for Mary as well, the Pathways to Diversity in STEM review that was released earlier this month recommended a whole of government long-term strategy to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM. How well placed would WGEA be to undertake a portfolio of work like that?

GALLAGHER: So, in short, I mean, I think the government needs to show leadership in the programs and purchasing that we do, in relation to promoting gender equality. That’s a very big question that would probably take a long time, you know, half an hour to have a discussion with you over. But government’s role is to provide leadership to make sure that we’re doing in, you know, the APS what we’re asking others to do and making sure we’re always talking about how gender equality is a key priority for us. And so, Ed Husic’s been doing a huge amount of work in this space, he’s supported by a whole range of talented women in STEM. But some of those issues about women in STEM go back to the point I was making before about how we’re reaching girls in primary school about what their expectations are for their lives ahead. And that’s critical to making sure we’re encouraging more women into STEM. The more women you get in there, the more women that will follow. It’s, you know, it’s clear from other areas where that change has happened.

WOOLDRIDGE: And just on your point, so the review that recommended publishing employer gender pay gaps – which we’re here today doing – also recommended having a look at the ability for WGEA to collect broader diversity data in addition to gender. And Government’s actively looking at that recommendation and working through how we could help employers to collect that data, and then we’d be able to collect it so that we could do an intersectional analysis on a number of these issues as well as the comparison of men and women.

GALLAGHER: Excellent. Thank you. Can I thank everyone for coming. It’s great to have so much coverage of this issue. Appreciate it.

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