When people talk about the gender ceiling in Australia's workforce it's easy to imagine women in shoulder pads comparing Cybill Shepherd haircuts and complaining about wage disparity and fax machines. It seems like an outdated conversation that we've moved way beyond. But a recent report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 95 percent of Australian occupations the pay gap is wider than ever.
Despite increased discussion around gender equality, and everyone on Instagram telling you fourth wave feminism is alive and kicking, the pay gap is at an all time high. And if you're not a cis-man, it's probably fucking you. Women on average earn almost 19 percent less than men, an increase of 14.9 percent from 11 years ago.
While it's tempting to mark this all up to cookie-cutter discrimination, the growing disparity is more nuanced. It's a factor of how we view certain jobs, reward character traits at work, and still assume all women want to have babies.
Yolanda Beattie, the executive manager at Workplace Gender Equality Agency, says the reason women are paid less isn't because we don't value them, but rather we don't respect the industries they lead. "Jobs dominated by women (nursing, teaching, childcare) are undervalued by society. So these issues have a gender component to them, but aren't about gender alone," she told VICE.
In comparison, banking is a high paying industry that's widely valued by society. It's also the industry most affected by pay inequality; with men being nine times more likely to earn more than women. But Yolanda notes this isn't about comparisons between male and female employees in the same job, but rather that traditional corporate structures allows men to advance more easily above women.
Generally speaking, only one in four of people in the top layers of management are women. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, that figure isn't a result of sexism, but structural and cultural barriers. Our perceptions of what makes a good worker is deeply ingrained, and a product of decades of men being perceived as the breadwinners, filling senior roles, and collecting the larger salaries. As a result, success in the workplace is often linked to "male characteristics."
Which if you think about it is more depressing. Rather than your boss consciously thinking women are inferior, they're acting on a deeply rooted belief that the fundamental characteristics women are raised to embody make them less desirable employees.
From a young age, women are still more likely to be rewarded for being compliant, accepting, and nurturing. Nice qualities in a mom, but not what we equate to being a successful worker. And when they break out of that model, they face criticism for being a ballbreaker. Anyone who doubts this is invited to watch Nicki Minaj break down the eternal bossy versus bitch debate.
This makes for sad reading, but there were a handful of industries where women routinely earn a comparable, or higher wage than men. Secretaries and fast food workers both fared better than other occupations and all industries that skipped the wage gap placed in the lowest earning bracket of $17,000 to $39,000 a year.
The only occupation that seemed to offer any glimmer of light was librarians. The library system doesn't mirror the country's wage gap, and it's upper management roles are largely dominated by women.
Lucy Goudie has worked as a librarian for almost 20 years, and comments that the industry's point of difference is a product of embracing a more flexible working model. Again, having a business contain mostly women doesn't automatically mean more maternity leave, but Australian library's ability to accommodate working mothers has helped it out in the long run.
Speaking to VICE, Lucy said the findings mirrored her own experience and noted libraries embraced many of the cultural divides other industries battled. "Library work is friendly for children and the support network and general understanding of the requirements of families is amazing." Rather than rewarding American Psycho style yuppy mobility, Lucy details a culture that's progressive, and supportive of women moving up the employment ladder. "There is more mentorship from women at higher levels where they can say I understand what you want to do and this is how you can advance your career."
Although it's an encouraging model, it's not one that encroaches of the aforementioned higher earning areas where men traditionally clean up. The average salary for librarians is just under $54,957. As Lucy says, "You don't become a librarian to be rich."
Ultimately the report was a massive bummer, but it speaks more to how we value certain kinds of work more than how we value gender. And demonstrates that rather than sexism diminishing, we're engraining gendered values more than ever by rewarding certain types of behaviors.
So be encouraged that your workplace probably isn't sexist. Or maybe it is, but just not in the way that you thought.
Follow Wendy on Twitter.