50 years since the “equal pay” principle: how far have we come?

Libby Lyons, WGEA Director

This article was written by Libby Lyons, Director of WGEA, and was originally published in the 2018-19 Gender Equality Scorecard


This year marks 50 years since the landmark 1969 equal pay decision that first saw Australian women win the right to be paid the same as men for doing the same work, or work of equal or comparable value. 

In the five decades since this momentous decision, Australia’s female workforce participation rate has reached record levels. Yet the gender pay gap remains a stubborn feature of our economy. 

This year, our data shows the gender pay gap continued to decline, which is good news. But men still out-earn women, on average, by 20.8%. Pay gaps persist across every industry, occupation and manager category. A drop of only 0.5 percentage points is slow progress by anyone’s measure.

In our sixth year of reporting on data collected from Australian employers, our latest dataset demonstrates the importance of continuing to measure gender equality in Australian workplaces. Although change is happening in some key areas, more effort needs to be made in others.

Our data shows that when employers take action, it makes a difference. More women are getting promoted to managerial roles. More employers are offering paid parental leave to their staff. More organisations are implementing policies or strategies to support gender equality or promote flexible working, as well as measuring their pay gaps and taking action to close them.

Most encouragingly, our data shows a remarkable 13.3 percentage point rise in the number of employers with a policy or strategy on family and domestic violence. At a time when our nation is confronting the scourge of domestic violence, employer action on this issue can make an important contribution.

Unfortunately, our data also highlights some key areas which need urgent attention.

The gender pay gap in the heavily female-dominated Health Care and Social Assistance industry has barely shifted, reflecting the historic and ongoing undervaluation of care work. Gender balance at CEO level has plateaued, with the share of female CEOs remaining unchanged from last year’s 17.1%. Our boardroom tables still remain dominated by men.

As frustrating as these problem areas are, when I look at this year’s data, and reflect on 50 years of the equal pay principle, I feel hopeful about the future of workplace gender equality. We stand on the shoulders of women and men who over five decades have battled tirelessly to advocate for action and progress has been made. Much still needs to be done but the momentum for change is well and truly with us. Our invaluable dataset comprehensively measures the action and change in our workplaces year-on-year.

This 2019 gender equality scorecard offers a snapshot of our 2018-19 data. I encourage you to explore this world-leading dataset and valuable national resource further by visiting our Data Explorer.

Australia's latest gender equality scorecard is out now and we want your help to spread the word.