Liberty Sanger on the pay gap

We talk pay disparity with Liberty Sanger, principal and director of Maurice Blackburn and chair of the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council.

On 21 March, you’re chairing a panel at the Victorian Government hosted Women@Work Conference on ‘The Gender Pay Gap and the Questions You Can’t Ask’. What are those taboo questions? Is requesting pay transparency up there at the top of the list?

There’s a real problem with the lack of transparent, independent data that allows people to know if they’re being paid fairly compared to colleagues doing the same or similar work. Asking these kinds of questions about pay can be difficult for any worker or employee, especially when they’re in a position of less power than those from whom they’re seeking the answer.

Why is this conference so important to the community?

Most employers want to do the right thing by their workers but are unaware that the way in which they’re paying their workers can be unequal. If we can encourage all businesses to undertake a gender pay audit, I’m confident they’ll identify gaps that they want to fix. Hopefully by the conclusion of this conference we’ll have lots of employers signing up to undertake a gender pay audit.

Why, exactly, is gender parity good for business? And why is it everyone’s business (not just a cause of working women)?

It makes sense that when you include everyone equally in your workplace, you’ll have a high-performing, high-functioning workplace. Employers that understand this are likely to see savings around recruitment and retention, and benefits in productivity gains and discretionary effort.

In the Global Gender Gap Report the World Economic Forum predicts the gender pay gap won’t close for an estimated 217 years – not exactly inspiring news. How can people not be discouraged and continue to help drive gender pay equity in 2018?

Everyone in the community should feel they have an important role to play in normalising the systems and processes that make equal pay business as usual in our organisations. My experience is that employers don’t set out to pay women unequally, and once any issues are identified, they’re keen to act on them. I don’t intend on sitting around for 217 years: we have to get out there and drive change.

Tell us your thoughts on the best ways to tackle gender pay disparity.

The causes of the gender pay gap are complicated, however, what is clear is that we’ve carved out roles in the workforce that we’ve allocated to women and we seem to have accepted that those roles should be paid less. In the workplace, across industries, there’s a further imbalance especially when it comes to leadership roles.

What we need to do is change the way that we look at these roles so that everyone has the right to do any job subject to undertaking appropriate training and having the right skills. Just to remind everybody, studies show that when workplaces get this right they make more money. Rather than making workplaces less profitable, the opposite happens.

Let’s talk superannuation disparity. According to the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA), women who retired in 2016 had an average super balance of $157,000 while men had $271,000. What’s the best way to close the gap in retirement incomes?

In part this has been caused by women taking time out of the workforce to care for children or others, returning to the workforce at less than full-time paid hours, and all the while doing necessary work for the community ensuring the next generation of taxpayers are raised and productive. Fixing the problem will require intervention, which may include initiatives like paying women extra super, or ensuring women are paid super while on paid or unpaid parental leave.

How can women better negotiate pay to match the pay of a male employee?

Before you enter a pay discussion get as much information and data as you can, and be conscious of your own value and outputs to the organisation. You should have agreed clear and transparent key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets at the beginning of the year, but don’t let new KPIs or targets confuse the discussion.

Any advice on how both employers and employees can help foster a culture of pay equality?

Talk about it in your workplace. Most employers don’t believe they have a pay gap and most employees don’t realise it either. Look at the Diversity Council Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, attend some seminars and identify the problem. Once you learn about what it is and everyone takes that journey together, you can make a commitment to change together.

Since becoming chair of the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council in July last year, what have been some of your key wins?

We’ve brought phenomenal talent to the council. And we’ve formed a plan of action to increase the number of organisations that undertake a gender pay audit, and look at what incentives the Victorian Government can provide to do that. We’re also making recommendations to government on how they can be a gender equal employer and lead by example. Lastly, having the backing of the Victorian Government to support our idea of having this summit to help achieve these aims has been a huge achievement in a short space of time. It speaks volumes of this government’s commitment to achieving its gender equality strategy.

Find out more about the Equal Workplaces Advisory Council.