Q&A with Helen Conway: Mind the pay gap


Addressing the pay gap between male and female employees is still not a priority for some Australian employers, and isn’t translating quickly enough into a plan of action. We talk with Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, about how closing the pay gap is progressing in Australia.

Why does the gender pay gap continue to be a low priority in Australia?

When we hear about the gender pay gap, it’s usually a reference to the difference between the national average full-time earnings of men and women. This figure doesn’t resonate with employers because they don’t directly control all the factors that drive it.

Many Australian CEOs are surprised a gender pay gap is still an issue, though as of 2014, 73.7 per cent had never undertaken a gender pay gap analysis. 

The figure is disappointing, although not surprising. I suspect many CEOs genuinely believe that people are paid fairly in their organisation, so they don’t see the need to undertake a gender pay gap analysis. Others simply don’t see it as a priority. However, in recent years, we’ve seen organisations focus on increasing awareness of how bias operates, which has helped many leaders better understand why they need to examine their pay data by gender.

What are the biggest challenges facing employers rolling out an equal pay strategy?

Pay equity needs to be championed by the CEO, so if a CEO hasn’t already committed to addressing this issue, getting the leadership team to champion it is probably the number one challenge an HR practitioner will face.

The second challenge lies in recognising that different strategies are needed for different types of gender pay gaps. We encourage employers to focus initially on like-for-like gender pay gaps, such as pay gaps between women and men doing the same or similar work, which can be resolved quickly. Organisation-wide pay gaps generally reflect the low number of women in leadership and management positions and so require a range of strategies to move women through the leadership pipeline. It takes time.

Finally, dealing with pay equity issues requires a sustained, disciplined approach. It’s critical to examine pay data by gender, put in place action plans to address inequities, establish accountabilities for the agreed actions and monitor progress on an ongoing basis.

How can managers become more aware of the impact of their decisions?

Managers play a vital role in addressing pay equity as they’re responsible for pay and performance decisions at key times, including on commencement of new team members, at times of promotion, and during performance and remuneration assessments.

They should talk to their HR department about pay equity and ask for a gender pay gap analysis to be conducted for their team. They can then work through any gender pay gaps and isolate causes. In addition to looking at this data, it’s also useful for managers to take a closer look at commencement salaries, promotion rates of women and men, and performance ratings of women and men to ensure there’s no gender bias in decisions being made.

Find out about AHRI’s International Women’s Day events.

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Q&A with Helen Conway: Mind the pay gap


Addressing the pay gap between male and female employees is still not a priority for some Australian employers, and isn’t translating quickly enough into a plan of action. We talk with Helen Conway, director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, about how closing the pay gap is progressing in Australia.

Why does the gender pay gap continue to be a low priority in Australia?

When we hear about the gender pay gap, it’s usually a reference to the difference between the national average full-time earnings of men and women. This figure doesn’t resonate with employers because they don’t directly control all the factors that drive it.

Many Australian CEOs are surprised a gender pay gap is still an issue, though as of 2014, 73.7 per cent had never undertaken a gender pay gap analysis. 

The figure is disappointing, although not surprising. I suspect many CEOs genuinely believe that people are paid fairly in their organisation, so they don’t see the need to undertake a gender pay gap analysis. Others simply don’t see it as a priority. However, in recent years, we’ve seen organisations focus on increasing awareness of how bias operates, which has helped many leaders better understand why they need to examine their pay data by gender.

What are the biggest challenges facing employers rolling out an equal pay strategy?

Pay equity needs to be championed by the CEO, so if a CEO hasn’t already committed to addressing this issue, getting the leadership team to champion it is probably the number one challenge an HR practitioner will face.

The second challenge lies in recognising that different strategies are needed for different types of gender pay gaps. We encourage employers to focus initially on like-for-like gender pay gaps, such as pay gaps between women and men doing the same or similar work, which can be resolved quickly. Organisation-wide pay gaps generally reflect the low number of women in leadership and management positions and so require a range of strategies to move women through the leadership pipeline. It takes time.

Finally, dealing with pay equity issues requires a sustained, disciplined approach. It’s critical to examine pay data by gender, put in place action plans to address inequities, establish accountabilities for the agreed actions and monitor progress on an ongoing basis.

How can managers become more aware of the impact of their decisions?

Managers play a vital role in addressing pay equity as they’re responsible for pay and performance decisions at key times, including on commencement of new team members, at times of promotion, and during performance and remuneration assessments.

They should talk to their HR department about pay equity and ask for a gender pay gap analysis to be conducted for their team. They can then work through any gender pay gaps and isolate causes. In addition to looking at this data, it’s also useful for managers to take a closer look at commencement salaries, promotion rates of women and men, and performance ratings of women and men to ensure there’s no gender bias in decisions being made.

Find out about AHRI’s International Women’s Day events.

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