27 September 2023

Could salary transparency finally help dismantle gendered pay disparity?

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Zahra Campbell-Avenell* looks at the impact a new salary transparency law could have on Australia’s gender pay gap.

Thanks to social media, there are few topics left that are considered taboo, but money is still one of them.

Very few of us talk openly about money, and the idea of openly sharing how much you make is enough to make most people squirm.

Worse still, this is encouraged in our workplace culture, with many companies explicitly forbidding employees from sharing information about their salaries with each other.

It’s perfectly legal for organisations in Australia to have a pay secrecy clause in their employment contract, which is why so many of them do.

Salary transparency helps everyone, but particularly women, marginalised people and those who are on the lower end of the pay spectrum, who can use this information to leverage better pay.

Sarah**, a content marketer from Sydney, tells Refinery29 Australia that she found out she was getting paid less than her peers purely by accident.

“Our HR rep was meant to share my team’s salaries for appraisals, but instead of sending me just the list of my direct reports, she accidentally included the salaries of everyone in the marketing team,” she shares.

“That’s when I learnt that my peers were all making between $15,000 to $25,000 more than me, for virtually identical jobs.

“That was the push I needed to start looking for a role somewhere I would be valued more.”

But a new Bill in Parliament is set to change this.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has said that the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill will help to close the 14.1 per cent gender pay gap.

The policy reform seeks to strengthen the protection of workers’ rights, including the ability to discuss their salary with others if they wish.

“Workers who want to have a discussion about pay equity at work should not be prohibited by their employment contracts from doing so,” Burke said in his Parliamentary address.

“This bill will prohibit pay secrecy clauses, bringing transparency to workplaces.”

He added, “This bill delivers on the government’s commitment to ensure a fairer workplace relations system that provides Australians with job security, gender equity and sustainable wage growth.”

We know that the gender pay gap is complex and not just impacted by the fact that women are often paid less than men for the exact same job.

We are far more likely to be in undervalued, lower-paying industries such as education and nursing; we experience discrimination and bias when it comes to hiring and pay decisions; we are overlooked for promotions; and we end up doing an unpaid second shift at home.

But if passed, this new law promoting pay disclosure will undoubtedly be a huge step towards dismantling gendered pay inequality.

**Name changed to protect privacy.

*Zahra Campbell-Avenell is Head of Editorial at Refinery29 Australia.

This article first appeared at refinery29.com.

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