CEOs for Gender Equity members Dawn Freshwater (left), Bronwyn Barnes, Chris Sutherland, Tania Cecconi and Sue Murphy are committed to addressing gender inequity in WA. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Leading front on equity agenda

Friday, 24 March, 2017 - 14:44

WA has the largest gender pay gap in the country, and Perth’s top business leaders are determined to do something to change that.

A report last year by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency revealed the average full-time base salary for women across all industries and occupations in Australia was 17.7 per cent, or $16,219, less than that for men.

In Western Australia, that figure sits at 23.9 per cent, an improvement of 2 per cent on 2015 figures but still the worst across the nation.

Some of the state’s most influential chief executives are working to change that.

CEOs for Gender Equity, a group founded by 18 chief executives in 2014, including Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder, is committed to addressing gender inequity in WA.

Members seek to educate business leaders across the state by sharing their own experiences and strategies to progress gender equality via information sessions. They also volunteer their time to meet with CEOs in the hope of boosting membership, and getting the message through by bringing more executives ‘inside the tent’.

Founding member, and Programmed chief executive, Chris Sutherland said one reason for the gender pay gap could be the higher percentage of men who work in industries with the highest average wages, such as resources.

“If you’re only recruiting from half the population you’re not getting the best people,” Mr Sutherland told Business News.

“A diverse team, not just based on gender, makes better decisions.

“WA has a lot of economic activity generated out of energy, mining, construction … and because many of these occupations of higher incomes are done mainly by men statistically, that results in a higher pay gap.

“We need to go to the root cause of why women aren’t doing as many of these occupations.”

Historically, women were rarely encouraged to pursue employment outside what were considered non-traditional roles at the time, but Mr Sutherland said education opportunities available in the 21st century were changing that dynamic.

“If you look at CEOs in WA, about a third have an engineering degree; I do,” Mr Sutherland said.

“Subject choice can narrow the capacity to get into higher income roles and senior management.”

In 2016, women comprised just 16.3 per cent of the total head-of -business roles nationally.

Change

Brookfield Rail has reduced its gender pay gap for base salaries by almost 20 per cent in the space of just five years, from 22.9 per cent in 2012 to 0.6 per cent currently.

General manager people, safety and corporate affairs Megan McCracken said deliberate decisions and significant changes were made in terms of the company’s approach to remuneration.

“When we started to think about what we could do about the pay gap we looked at bias with action,” Ms McCracken told Business News.

“Having the senior leaders on board was the first step.”

Ms McCracken said the business had addressed its policies, such as the way it traditionally paid people.

“We are strict with how we look at every person, how we size their role and what pay is then established; the starting pay is the most critical, because that’s where it increases from,” she said.

“It’s not whether someone is a good negotiator or not; in general a lot of women are not as good at or as confident at negotiating as men.

“So we took that out of the equation and said ‘this is what we’re going to pay’; there is some leeway, but not as much as there had been.”

Brookfield Rail also altered the recruitment process and changed the way it wrote job advertisements to use more gender-neutral language, and listing only the skills that were specific and essential to the job, omitting those that could be developed.

Ms McCracken said what would usually be a representation of around five women out of 100 responses grew to 75 after an advertisement for a job information session was posted on Facebook.

However, she said Brookfield Rail had not set any female or male quota targets.

“The policies put in place are based to hire on merit, not gender,” Ms McCracken said.

“I hope more companies will take on the hard graft.

“We’ve gotten to a good place, we need to sustain it.”