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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 116 – How can I fight the gender pay gap when our CEO doesn’t see an issue?

No. 116 – How can I fight the gender pay gap when our CEO doesn’t see an issue?

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19 July 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: a wish for equal pay, the power of mentorship and frustrations over hybrid work.

I’m part of a team with four managers (three women, one man) and we do equal work. However, after we shared our salaries with one another, we discovered the man in our team makes between $20,000 and $40,000 more than the women. When we met with our female CEO to ask for the gap to be lessened, she rejected our request saying that, on average, women make more than men across the organisation. I’m a member of the union, and they suggested lodging an application for an equal remuneration order with the Fair Work Commission. This feels like a rather serious move, but I am pretty disheartened. What can we do?

I went straight to an expert for advice on how you can approach this again with your boss. Libby Lyons, former director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) agrees that while the gender pay gap calculation that the WGEA calculates (and most organisations refer to) is the organisation-wide gap, this is only an indication of how women and men are paid on average across a workplace. In small organisations in particular, the salaries of one or two senior people can easily skew the calculations overall.

In Australia, equal pay has been a legal requirement since 1969. Libby recommends you work up your “like for like” case to prove you are performing the same role, or different work of equal or comparable value, as your male colleague. Proving this is critical because right now, your employer risks not meeting their legal requirement of equal pay. If your CEO still rejects your claim, you can pursue justice through the Fair Work Commission. The suggestion of this might make the CEO see sense.

I’m an Aboriginal educator, speak several Indigenous languages and have a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and Teaching. I have a unique skill set and while many people love and support my work, others are challenged by my vision. Because I’m a sole parent with a mortgage, I must succeed. Do you have any advice to help me in my career?

To provide you with culturally relevant advice, I asked Dr Jessa Rogers, a Wiradjuri researcher, educator and board director, who has more than 15 years of teaching experience in schools and tertiary education, what might assist you most. Jessa suggests you seek out an Indigenous education mentor to discuss pathways for professional development and career progression. You can also connect with Indigenous educator networks and collectives, which provide culturally supportive and informed peer mentorship and opportunities to discuss the unique challenges faced by Indigenous education experts. Depending on the career pathway you wish to follow, a role such as an Indigenous education consultant might also work well for you, with support from Indigenous Business Australia and other Indigenous education consultants. Good luck!

People at my new job still operate with the belief that the country is in the grips of a global pandemic. Staff attendance in the office is encouraged to be three days a week, but the actual rate is much lower, making it hard to develop working relationships, foster a good culture and, ultimately, do great work. What advice do you have?

It sounds like you may have found yourself in a workplace culture which is not a great fit for you. For many people, COVID is a health and safety issue like any other and so reminders about hygiene and staying well will continue, just as COVID cases do. I also suspect flexible or hybrid work is here to stay, so it may be worth chatting to your boss about whether there are options to work in a team where people are in the office more.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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