26 September 2023

Pay gap hurdles: Convincing men it exists

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Jessie Tu* says more than 25 per cent of men believe the pay gap is grossly exaggerated.

In the financial sector, men and women hold very different views on pay transparency.

More than a quarter of men actually believe the extent of the gender pay gap is grossly exaggerated.

This is according to the latest Gender Divide Survey undertaken by Financial Services Institute of Australasia (FINSAI), the professional not-for-profit membership body for financial services which has over 8,000 members across NZ and Australia.

The survey revealed that more than fifty per cent of men in the industry believe organisations are transparent, compared to just 18 per cent of women.

More than half of the female respondents said they have occasionally experienced, or known someone to experience, harassment or sexism in the workplace, compared to just over a third of male respondents.

FINSIA has been holding biannual surveys since 2010, and this year, its sixth, reveals the continuing trend that men and women are out of step with each other on issues of gender inequality.

The survey compared these differing perceptions to data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) and found that financial and insurance services remains the industry with the largest gender pay gap — 27.5 per cent for total remuneration, and 21.2 per cent for base salary.

That’s more than six percentage higher than the average total remuneration pay gap for combined industries, which stands at 21.3 per cent.

FINSIA’s survey also showed 77 per cent of male respondents were “neutral, agreed, or strongly agreed” that the pay gap was grossly exaggerated, compared to 40 per cent of women.

Last month, Financy Women’s Index June quarter report showed that the four highest paying sectors for women, including financial services, all increased their gender pay gaps during May.

FINSIA Diversity Advisory Council Chair Linda Maniaci said the survey showed the need for more material action, with a focus on much more sponsorship of females into leadership opportunities.

“The findings of the survey beg the question, is the frustratingly slow progress we are making in areas of gender equality in our industry down to the different lived experiences of men and women in our industry?” she said in a statement.

“We need to do more to ensure women are provided with the same career opportunities as men – particularly when they display the same leadership qualities as their male counterparts.

“We all need to work harder to challenge unconscious bias and myths regarding merit.”

“It is also clearly worrying that the financial services industry lags so far behind every other industry when it comes to inequality over pay.”

“What’s concerning for an industry that is as heavily focused on incentives and bonuses as financial services, is that the pay gap is worse percentage-wise when they’re taken into account.”

“At least some elements of the survey are encouraging – such as our implementation of flexible working arrangements and strategies to tackle unequal pay.”

FINSIA’s CEO Chris Whitehead believes the strong difference between male and female perceptions may indicate why improvement in gender equality is so slow.

“The report is a wake-up call to all those in the industry to become aware of the operation of unconscious bias and put in place processes to counter it,” he said.

“There is a persistent division between men and women’s perception about the extent of the gender pay gap.”

“More than 25 per cent of males strongly agree the extent of the pay gap is grossly exaggerated.

“Yet only 3 per cent of women strongly believe this is the case.

“Clearly a gender divide in the perception versus reality.”

“Given that such different perceptions prevail, it’s not surprising “female respondents are more likely to feel comfortable raising gender equity issues only with other women.

“Another concerning aspect was sexual harassment or sexism in the workplace,” he added.

“Since our last survey in 2018 the spotlight has shone brightly on sexual harassment cases in Australia’s most powerful workplace – Parliament House.”

Whitehead is calling for an industry roundtable in the coming months to discuss the results of the survey and take proactive steps to address the issues.

“Harassment, sexism, gender inequality and unconscious bias are all inconsistent with the professionalism advocated by FINSIA.”

“It is alarming to see from the results on page 41 that financial services is not immune to sexism and sexual harassment.”

“This concern is compounded by what appears to be an increase in discomfort – from both women and men – about speaking up about issues of gender inequality.”

WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge said the research indicates some of the trends in the Agency’s own dataset.

“Our most recent data has identified what we refer to as an action gap: organisations may take the first steps to try to understand the gender pay gaps in their workforce, but then fail to take any action to address them,” Wooldridge said.

In their most recent employer census from 2019-20, Wooldridge reported a 6-percentage-point drop in the number of employers taking action to close their gender pay gaps: nearly half of employers who undertook a gender pay gap analysis failed to take any action to close the identified gaps.

“The FINISA results similarly illustrate this divide between knowledge and action,” she said.

“Businesses need to continually improve their policies and practices to ensure women and men are valued and treated as equals in the workplace.”

Diversity Advisory Council Chair Linda Maniaci believes concerted efforts are needed to improve these dire figures.

“We’re not talking about just mentoring – many women already have the skills and leadership qualities required for a successful career in our sector,” she said.

“But what we need is active sponsorship and genuine advocacy for women, from both males and females.”

Alison Pullen, Professor of Management and Organisation Studies at Macquarie University, believes leadership in the financial sector should be one that not only supports changes towards greater equality, but also disrupts the hierarchy, power and regimes that perpetuate inequality.

“To address the normalisation of harassment, tackling leadership inequality is a way forward,” she wrote last month for Women’s Agenda.

“This includes increasing the number of women in leadership positions.

People have been saying that for decades, but far too little has been done to make any real change.

Another part of the solution, and one usually overlooked, is that the traditional understanding of leadership as a form of dominance needs to change.

*Jessie Tu is a journalist at Women’s Agenda and the author of ‘A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing’.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au.

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