Australia's WGEA is preparing to release its fifth year of data collection on workplace gender equality
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Australia awaits gender equality scorecard

The federal government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is set to release its 2017–18 gender reporting data on November 13 at the National Press Club in Canberra.

“Australia’s role in encouraging gender diversity is based on our distinctive gender equality reporting system,” says a WGEA spokesperson. “We now have a comprehensive, world-leading dataset which enables us to look at the state of gender equality in our workplaces in great detail. To our knowledge, we are the only country in the world collecting this breadth and depth of data.”

Exactly what the new WGEA report will uncover remains to be seen, but it marks the organisation’s fifth year of data collection on workplace gender equality. The research provides benchmarks of Australia’s year-to-year progress, while also highlighting areas for improvement.

The findings will come on the heels of a report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that confirms the disparity between wages for recent male and female graduates. According to a follow-up article in The Age, new male graduates can earn over $5,000 more a year than their female counterparts.

In fact, only one industry went against this gender wage gap trend: engineering.

Women in engineering

The ABS report shows that women who graduated with undergraduate degrees in engineering and related technologies were offered a median pay of $1,500 more than men with the same qualifications.

The reason for this is demand.

Enrolment in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remains predominantly male, with females making up less than 20 per cent of engineering graduates.

This means companies seeking to diversify their workforce need to make a concerted investment in their hiring process.

Professor Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at the University of New South Wales, explains that the higher pay rate is a result of the imbalanced matriculation.

“As the number of female engineers graduating is less than males, there is greater competition to attract females and hence the higher salaries,” he says. “Employers have a strong desire to have a diverse workplace as it is well recognised that it will lead to a more innovative environment.”

Encouraging enrolment

Hoffman says the lack of women in engineering is a result of an old, traditional way of thinking. “It has simply been considered that boys do engineering – parents think this, career advisors espouse it.”

But he also optimistically notes an increase in women enrolling in engineering programs, particularly over the past three to five years. He points to efforts by UNSW, the University of Queensland and the University of Technology Sydney to attract, retain and develop female engineering students to their programs, alongside support from the industry.

“At UNSW, a range of programs has seen the number of female students studying engineering rise by over 1,000 since 2014,” he says. “This corresponds to an increase in the fraction of females entering first year from 19 per cent in 2015 to 27 per cent in 2018. We have a goal of 30 per cent in 2020 [and] believe that this will transform the workforce at a rate which had previously seemed unattainable.”

Morley Muse is a PhD student at Victoria University who co-founded its Women in Science & Engineering Club. She says there are several ways in which women can be encouraged to study STEM courses.

“Positive role modelling can be a long-term solution in attracting the younger generation of women in STEM.”

She points out, though, that the higher salary for female engineers drops off significantly for those in post-graduate programs.

“Whilst [the undergraduate earnings are] something to be proud of, for postgraduate levels, females still earn significantly less than males with a median difference of about $15,000.”

Muse says the engineering industry leads the STEM sector in its efforts to attract more females to its workforce. Overall, however, she believes all STEM companies could do more to encourage women to stay in the workforce. This includes adopting programs such as onsite staff-subsidised daycare centres to help strike a balance between work and life.

Change also relies on the government’s approach to education in establishing long-term paths to success and retaining a dedicated workforce. Muse suggests the government can play a pro-active role by enforcing a gender quota system in post-graduate STEM programs and offering gender-focused scholarships.

Report takeaways

The WGEA will release its findings on gender pay gaps by industry and occupation; the proportion of women in leadership positions; and the availability of paid parental leave and flexible work. It will also explore how employers are actively encouraging pay equity and the promotion of gender equality.

“We want people to look at our reports and feel encouragement from the progress that has been made but also to be informed about exactly what areas need further work,” says the WGEA spokesperson. “Our first four years of data shows that we are moving in the right direction. The gender pay gap continues to steadily close, although at 22.4 per cent for full-time total remuneration it remains far too high.

“Change is underway in Australian workplaces. In some ways, it is happening very quickly; in others, far too slowly. When the latest dataset is released in November, our hope is that the Australian public will continue to see the value and importance of how the Agency’s data has helped to support the positive changes and improve gender equality outcomes for both women and men in Australia’s workplace.”

With the release of the 2017–18 report, the WGEA will take 5 years of gender reporting in Australia: what has changed? on a national roadshow. It stops in Canberra (Nov 13), Sydney (Nov 15), Adelaide (Nov 19), Melbourne (Nov 20), Perth (Nov 22) and Brisbane (Nov 23).

For more information and to register for one of the events, visit the WGEA’s website.

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