New WGEA data shows employer action on gender equality has stalled

Data released today by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shows a worrying decline in employer action on gender equality prior to the impact of COVID-19. Whilst the gender pay gap for total remuneration dropped just 0.7 percentage points (pp) to 20.1%, men still out-earn women on average by $25,534.

Other than the small improvement in the gender pay gap, access to flexible work increased and over 50% of employers now offer paid primary carer’s leave. The most troubling finding was a substantial 6.1pp decline in the number of employers taking action on pay equity and women continue to dominate the more insecure part-time and casual roles.

The Agency’s Director Libby Lyons expressed her disappointment at this year’s results.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was concerned that Australian employers had become complacent. The modest rate of change in last year’s results suggested they were in the grip of ‘gender equality fatigue’.

“I’m now very disappointed that almost nothing has changed this year. It appears to me that Australian employers are on autopilot when it comes to improving gender equality. The issue is clearly not receiving the necessary attention to drive further change.

“Without ongoing and increased employer action, we are likely to regress and will witness a decline in the many gains achieved over the last few years, such as the gradual reduction of the gender pay gap and more women in leadership roles,” said Ms Lyons.

This year’s dataset offers a comprehensive snapshot of private sector employment as it was just prior to the imposition of COVID-19 restrictions. It provides an important benchmark for comparison to next year’s dataset, which will capture the full impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s private sector.

“I recognise that 2020 has been a very challenging year for employers and I appreciate their commitment to continuing to report their data, despite the upheaval and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms Lyons.

“It means that we have an unbroken, world-leading, seven-year longitudinal dataset which is immensely important in measuring gender equality outcomes in Australian workplaces.

“The most disappointing result is the reversal in action on pay equity. This year, there is a decrease of 6.1 percentage points in the percentage of employers that took action to close their gender pay gaps. Just 54.4% of employers who did a gender pay gap analysis took action to close the identified gaps.

“This trend must not continue. Experience tells us that when employers measure their data, identify the problem areas and take action to address them, the pay gap closes.

“Our data also revealed further concerns. I always welcome an increase in the number of female CEOs and board directors but we are still decades away from achieving gender balance at the top levels of leadership. Progress on this issue remains glacial.

“There were some positive developments. For the first time since we started collecting data, over 50% of employers now offer paid primary carer’s leave to their employees. Women’s promotions and appointments to managerial roles continues to rise with women now comprising almost four in 10 managers in our dataset. I was also pleased to see another strong increase in employer action on family and domestic violence.

“Access to flexible work also improved. More than three-quarters of employers now have policies or strategies to promote flexible working. The COVID-19 crisis has proved to Australian employers that they can trust their employees to work flexibly and still be productive. Employers must now make flexible work an essential, mainstream practice in their workplaces.

“Our data shows that women’s working experiences and conditions are very different to that of men. Women have more precarious employment circumstances, dominating part-time (75.1%) and casual (56.3%) roles.

“As we move into the post-COVID recovery phase, we must make sure that women’s workforce participation is not sidelined. Our economic recovery depends on women having equal access to secure full-time jobs.

“I know and appreciate that Australian employers are likely to encounter more challenges and disruptions in 2021. However, I urge all employers to redouble their efforts and action in driving better gender equality outcomes in their workplaces and to ensure that they submit reporting data to the Agency next year. Gender equality is not just a human rights issue. It is good for business and integral to our economic recovery,” said Ms Lyons.


Note to media: data graphics and video are available on request.

Contact: Murray Black 0438 071 876 / E

Note: A gender pay gap is the difference between the average male full-time earnings and average female full-time earnings expressed as a percentage of male earnings. We calculate gender pay gaps across the dataset by industry and by manager and occupational categories, excluding CEO salaries. The Agency’s gender pay gap data does not reflect comparisons of women and men in the same roles (that is, like-for-like gaps). The gender pay gap is not the difference between two people being paid differently for work of equal or comparable value. This is unequal pay and it is unlawful.


About the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces.

About the data

Under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, non-public sector employers with 100 or more staff must report to the WGEA annually against six gender equality indicators:

  • GEI 1: the gender composition of the workforce
  • GEI 2: gender composition of governing bodies of relevant employers
  • GEI 3: equal remuneration between women and men
  • GEI 4: availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities
  • GEI 5: consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace
  • GEI 6: sex-based harassment and discrimination.

The dataset for 2019-20 covered over 4.3 million employees, representing more than 40% of employees in Australia. The reporting period was 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

Key Findings: 2019-20 data

Gender pay gap

  • The total remuneration gender pay gap is 20.1% (down 0.7pp)
  • Men out-earn women by $25,534 a year on average
  • The pay gap in favour of men barely shifted the female-dominated industry of Health Care and Social Assistance (up 1.0pp from 14.7% in 2015-16 to 15.7% in 2019-20)

Pay equity

  • Employer action on pay equity went backwards and the action gap widened
  • 1.7 pp increase in the number employers doing a pay gap analysis (up to 46.4%)
  • BUT there was a reduction in those taking action to close gaps (down 6.1pp to 54.4%)
  • Consequently, the action gap widened: almost 45% of these employers took no action to close their pay gaps

Flexible work

  • More employers are promoting flexible work (up 3.2pp to 75.9%)
  • But an action gap remains: only 5.7% have set targets for employee engagement and only 2.2% have set targets for men’s engagement

Parental leave

  • For the first time in the seven-year dataset, over half of employers now offer paid primary carer’s leave
  • Access is variable and remains highly dependent on the size and industry of the employer
  • 52.4% of employers offered paid primary carer’s leave (up 3.0pp)
  • 46.4% of employers offered paid secondary carer’s leave (up 2.6pp)

Lack of women at CEO and Board level

  • The glass ceiling is still a barrier for women at top leadership levels
  • A slight increase in the number of female CEOs (up 1.2pp to 18.3%)
  • A small rise in the number of female board directors (up 1.3pp to 28.1%)

Women in management

  • Women now comprise 39.9% of all managers in the WGEA dataset
  • 44.7% of manager promotions and appointments went to women

Women and workforce status

  • Women dominate part-time (75.1%) and casual (56.3%) roles
  • Only 38.1% of full-time workers are female

Family and domestic violence

  • Strong increase in employer action on family and domestic violence
  • 6.2pp jump in employers with a policy or strategy (up to 66.4%)
  • 5.2pp increase in employer provision of paid domestic violence leave (up