Gender pay equity

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Best practice employers take steps to ensure that gender-based pay discrimination is not part of their remuneration system.

At the beginning of the twentieth century when women began to enter the workforce in larger numbers, women were paid less than men, even when they performed the same work. Often women were paid one half or two-thirds of a male's salary. Having a 'male' and 'female' rate of pay is a classic illustration of pay inequality.

The undervaluation of women's work is still embedded in many workplaces. By eliminating discrimination when it comes to wages, employers create fairer working environments. Fairness, respect and equality are essential components of building harmonious, cooperative and productive workplaces.

This best practice guide explains:

  • what gender pay equity is
  • why gender pay inequity happens
  • the benefits of gender pay equity
  • how to achieve gender pay equity.

There is also a checklist to assist best practice employers.

This guide illustrates best practice when it comes to gender pay equity. For specific information regarding your minimum legal obligations, contact the organisations listed under the 'For more information' section at the end of this guide.

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What is gender pay equity?

Gender pay equity is when men and women receive equal pay for work of equal or comparable value. In practical terms, this means that best practice employers ensure that:

  • men and women performing the same work are paid the same amount
  • men and women performing different work of equal value are paid the same amount
  • the wages and conditions of jobs are assessed in a non-discriminatory way. This is done by valuing skills, responsibilities and working conditions in each job or job type (even where the work itself is different) and then remunerating employees accordingly
  • the workplace's organisational structures and processes do not impede female employees' access to work-based training, promotions or flexible working arrangements.

Case studies

1. Inequalities in part-time and full-time rates of pay

Alana and Steven both apply for sales positions at Perez Enterprises. They have similar levels of experience and past sales performance. Steven is successful and obtains a full-time position. Alana wants to work part-time to manage family responsibilities. She successfully obtains a part-time position. Perez Enterprises pays Alana a part-time salary. However, Alana realises that if she were working full-time hours she would not be earning as much as Steven.

This is gender pay inequality as Alana is earning less per hour than Steven even though she is performing the same work.

2. Work of the same value

Johan and Maya both completed three year university degrees in order to enter their professions. Johan is a qualified geologist and Maya is a qualified human resources professional. Both Johan and Maya have five years work experience in their fields and have recently been employed by the same mining company.

Maya is employed as the human resources manager and supervises the work of five human resources advisers. Johan is employed in the role of manager – geology and supervises the work of five geologists. Even though Maya and Johan are performing different work, a job evaluation of both positions looking at the skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions involved, determined that the work that they perform involves comparable skills and responsibilities. However, Johan is paid a higher salary than Maya.

This may be an example of gender pay inequity, as Johan and Maya are performing work of comparable value, but are receiving different pay. If, however, there was a valid reason for the difference in remuneration – for example, if there were a shortage of geologists in the labour market and therefore increased demand – then gender pay inequity may not be the reason for the difference in salary.

Differences in pay for men and women for work of comparable value have sometimes been found to be valid where they can be shown to reflect factors unaffected by the sex of the workers, including labour market supply and demand, or differences in industry economics.

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Why does gender pay inequity happen?

According to statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there is a pay gap in Australia between women and men. In February 2011, the average weekly earnings for full-time workers were approximately 17% lower for women than for men.

The reasons for the gap between earnings for women and men are numerous. A range of historical factors have played a part in creating the gender pay gap. Today, influencing factors can include:

  • the undervaluation of skills in industries and areas where women predominate
  • women's lack of access to work-based training
  • different levels of eligibility for discretionary payments such as over-award payments, bonuses and performance pay
  • inflexible organisational structures that restrict the employment prospects of workers with family responsibilities.

Identifying the reasons why pay inequity may exist in your business is the first step towards fixing the gap.

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The benefits of gender pay equity

Gender pay equity makes good business sense. The benefits to your business of gender pay equity can include:

  • achieving fairness and respect in the workplace
  • creating a motivated, happy and productive workforce 
  • becoming an employer of choice
  • attracting and retaining the best and brightest staff
  • improving staff retention and thereby reducing turnover costs
  • fulfilling a business' legal obligations
  • inspiring consumer confidence
  • preventing negative public relations issues arising from legal proceedings or allegations of gender pay inequity
  • avoiding a costly discrimination complaint
  • attracting government contracting opportunities.

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Achieving gender pay equity in your workplace

In simple terms, gender pay equity is about ensuring that both women and men are paid fairly for the work they perform.

Equal pay is not just about equal wages. Equal pay takes into account discretionary pay, allowances, performance payments, merit payments, bonus payments and superannuation.

Addressing the issue of gender pay inequity involves understanding where pay disparities may exist in your workplace and giving regard to:

Obligations under the Fair Work Act

  • The Fair Work Commission can make an equal remuneration order requiring certain employees be provided equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value. An application for an equal remuneration order can be made by an affected employee, a union which is entitled to represent an affected employee or the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
  • Once an equal remuneration order has been made, it will prevail over a modern award, enterprise agreement, a Fair Work Commission order or any other industrial instrument if it is more beneficial than these instruments.
  • An employer that contravenes an equal remuneration order can be liable for a penalty.

Obligations under the federal Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012

  • The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (EOWW Act) has been replaced with the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (WGE Act). All non-public sector employers with 100 or more employers in their corporate structure (relevant employers) are required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) annually.
  • For the 2012-13 reporting period, relevant employers are required to lodge a report comprising a workplace profile in the same format as under the EOWW Act, with no salary data required.
  • They also have to tell employees, shareholders and members that the report has been lodged with WGEA and give them access to a copy. Employee organisations (eg. unions) with members in the workplace must also be told that the report has been lodged. Employees and employee organisations may comment on the report to the employer or to the WGEA. These requirements apply from 2012-13 onwards.
  • The reporting requirements of the WGE Act apply in full from 2013-14. Relevant employers are required to report on a set of gender equality indicators. These reports must be signed by the CEO.
  • The gender equality indicators are:
    • Gender composition of the workforce
    • Gender composition of government bodies of relevant employers
    • Equal remuneration between women and men
    • Availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practises relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities
    • Consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace.
    • Any other matter specified by the relevant Minister in a legislative instrument.
  • Additional minimum standards will apply from the 2014-15 reporting period.

Obligations under state, territory and federal anti-discrimination laws

  • Anti-discrimination legislation makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the grounds of sex in regard to the terms and conditions of employment provided to employees (which includes pay and other benefits).

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Best practice initiatives

In addition to meeting their obligations under legislation, employers can also achieve gender pay equity through introducing initiatives that respond to the specific needs of their workplaces. A best practice business will endeavour to identify areas where equal opportunity may be improved and will design and implement policies and practices to achieve improvement.

For example, a best practice business may:

  • ensure that there are transparent remuneration policies and practices in place
  • recognise a wide range of skills and appreciate the value those skills can bring to the business
  • provide flexible work arrangements to encourage women to return to the workplace following a period of parental leave (see best practice guide No 1 'Work and family' and best practice guide No 12 'Parental leave')
  • ensure that employees on flexible working arrangements have access to quality work and the same benefits, training and promotional opportunities as full-time employees
  • conduct a gender pay equity audit to identify whether there are any issues or areas that can be improved
  • compare salaries for men and women upon commencement, yearly and on promotion to analyse where gaps exist and either seek justification for any imbalances or work to eliminate them altogether
  • review overtime and shift arrangements to ensure that access is provided equally to male and female employees. For example, a business should not assume that women do not want to work overtime or night shifts
  • strive to meet the requirements for an WGEA employer of choice citation regardless of employee numbers

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Checklist for pay equity best practice

  • Do your organisation's policies and practices support pay equity? Is there a transparent performance review process and equitable access to training, promotions, and rewards and benefits programs?
  • Does your organisation have an equitable wage setting process that has been checked to ensure it is free of gender bias?
  • Are jobs fully and fairly described and valued, and work value factors such as skill, level of responsibility and working conditions consistently measured?
  • Has your organisation undertaken a pay equity audit to determine areas and occupations where gender pay inequity may exist? A Payroll Analysis Tool is available from WGEA’s website to help identify gender pay gaps. An audit usually involves a review of the payroll data to identify the areas where there may be gender inequities.
  • Are there flexible working arrangements? Are the flexible working arrangements available to all employees, and does the workplace culture support such arrangements?
  • Is pay equity incorporated into your organisation's business objectives and goals?
  • Does your organisation compare salaries for men and women upon commencement, yearly and on promotion to analyse where gaps exist and either seek justification for any imbalances or work to eliminate them altogether?

You can find more information and resources on equal pay between women and men at WGEA's website external-icon.png.

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For more information

Workplace Gender Equality Agency
1800 730 233
(02) 9432 7000

Fair Work Ombudsman
13 13 94

Fair Work Commission


Fair Work Ombudsman
13 13 94

Australian Human Rights Commission
1300 369 711

Australian Capital Territory Human Rights Commission
(02) 6205 2222

New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board
(02) 9268 5544

Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission
1800 813 846

Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
1300 130 670

South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission
(08) 8207 1977

Tasmanian Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner
(03) 6233 4841

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
1300 891 848

Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission
(08) 9216 3900

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