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I’ll never forget the anger of one of my female colleagues, when, at the peak of her career, she discovered a male colleague with an equivalent job was paid more than double her salary. 

I’m talking about figures so big the story of his departure “to spend more time with his family” made the news. 

Her CEO immediately called her to apologise about the disparity - despite my colleague clearly being more successful in the role. He didn’t offer to increase her salary, though. 

She blamed herself for not being better at arguing for a pay rise. Undoubtedly, many women find this hard to do, while some men, on the other hand, can pontificate and back-slap until the cows come home. And it seems those who pontificate the loudest are always the ones who do their job the worst. 


When I was at the peak of my journalistic career, I was often the only woman at conferences full of men. When I entered circles of chat, it usually went quiet as the men were typically talking about football or some other sport and assumed I had no interest. 


That camaraderie, often extending to after-work drinks, was very hard to break into. And if you did, you were wrongly assumed to be having a relationship with one of your male colleagues.  


But here we are, 20 years later, since the outrage of my friend, and I’m still reading headlines about the gender pay gap at the top end of business.  


The Nightly reported figures released yesterday by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) showed male financial dealers enjoyed average incomes of almost $408,000 in the 2021-22 financial year, only behind male surgeons, who earned an average of $506,062 and anaesthetists, $478,995. 


But here’s where it gets interesting. Those men earned more than double their female financial dealing rivals and were well ahead of female anaesthetists and surgeons, who drew relatively modest average incomes of $346,253 and $285,980, respectively. 


Female anaesthetists reported 38 per cent income less than their male colleagues; there is a 77 per cent gap in surgery and more than 60 per cent higher pay for men practising internal medicine. 


This disturbing trend included law, mining engineers, dentists, and even professions where women make up the majority of workers, such as midwives, nurses, and teachers. 


The very clever headline to this story - “Big Swinging Dealers”  - says it all, really. I’ve met many of them in my time. 


Earlier this year, one of my female friends was outraged when data from the Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency was released, showing dozens of Australian businesses had gender pay gaps above 50 per cent. 


It found that while every industry had a pay gap in favour of men, the most significant pay gaps tended to be in the highest-paid industries.  


My friend, who has held many high positions in the media for the past 30 years (and still does), asked me, half joking, if women needed to burn their bras again. 


But it’s a great point: why don’t today’s Millennials care? Why are they so apathetic? Is it because they haven’t yet reached the high levels when they will feel the gender pay gap pain the most? 


There’s zero anger, and there should be anger. 


Feminism has become a word Millennials don’t like to use, even though it simply means fairness for all women. 


Of course, there are some logical reasons some women are paid less at the top levels. They have less experience and a slower career progression because they have taken time off to have children. Many with children, like me, also prefer part-time work for a better work-life balance. 


But it’s also easier for some men to climb the career ladder, and have time to network after work, if they have the luxury of a stay-at-home wife who, by choice, wants to look after the kids.  


Not so many executive women have that advantage. 


There is no doubt there is still direct discrimination in the workplace, with some employers favouring men over women in both hiring and pay as they assume men are more committed to their careers and won’t leave for long periods to have children. 


people drinking
Photo: Elevate/Unsplash

One of the great barriers women have is they are assumed to be the primary carer of the kids when actually it’s a shared task with men. 

As well, most companies have no salary transparency, which can also perpetuate the pay gap. If you were an employer, why would you raise someone’s salary if you can get them cheaper?  

I have never been a big believer that the numbers of men and women should be equal in the workplace. Jobs should always go to the best candidate, not according to some woke agenda or quota system, but based on merit, skills, and performance. 

The best employees should receive the best pay, whether male, female, transgender, non-binary or of any other gender identity.  

And you can’t tell me that most of the women reflected in the ATO figures are not equal, if not better, to the men getting paid significantly more money than them. 

Australia needs to do better. 

This article was first published on The Nightly, which brings journalism, analysis, and commentary from Australia’s leading voices with a focus on politics, policy, business, and culture.



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