Filling the void: Communication key to navigating employer gender pay gap reveal
By James Williams, Group Advisor at Six O’Clock Advisory.
Employers feeling daunted by next month’s (first-time) publication of gender pay gap data would do well to recognise how effective communication can help them realise the opportunity that comes with this increased scrutiny.
There is understandable apprehension among larger private sector employers over the prospect of losing the precious layer of anonymity that has long helped to protect them from the full glare of such publicity. For, make no mistake, we are about to witness the evolution of the gender pay gap – which relates to the difference in average earnings between women and men in the workforce (as opposed to the difference in pay between women and men in the same roles) – from a macro issue to a problem for individual employers.
But, here’s the thing. Most Australians appreciate the significance of the gender pay gap challenge confronting this country. And, for good reason.
In November last year, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) – the federal government agency responsible for promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces – revealed that the average total remuneration gender pay gap was 21.7 per cent in 2023. Meaning on average, for every $1 earned by men in Australia, women earned just 78 cents – with an average annual pay difference of $26,393 between men and women.
This came after Federal Parliament passed amendments (via the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023 (Cth)) to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) in March 2023, which included mandating the public disclosure by the WGEA of qualifying private sector and public sector employer gender pay gaps from February 2024 and late 2024/early 2025 respectively.
The requirements introduced in Australia are along similar lines to gender pay gap reporting obligations previously implemented in the United Kingdom, and together speak to what is a global problem.
Against this backdrop, it will come as no great surprise that the pay gap figures for the reporting period of April 2022 to March 2023 inclusive – to be released on 27 February 2024 – for many of the qualifying (100+ employee) private sector employers will reflect the broader issue to varying extents.
In noting this, it is in no way intended to downplay the seriousness of the problem, nor the urgency in which it should be addressed. Neither is it to suggest that employers with relatively poor results will not be the subject of criticism from some quarters. Rather, it’s to point out that – particularly in relation to this first year of historical reporting – reaction will likely be less of the ‘name and shame’ variety and, instead, focus on the way in which right-minded employers respond to the results and the core question: What is my organisation doing to address the gender pay gap issue?
That’s where effective communication and stakeholder engagement comes to the fore.
Employers need to consider the messages they want to convey to key internal and external audiences. Think, for example, existing and prospective (and particularly female) employees, clients, customers and the general public.
None of which is lost on the WGEA itself. Indeed, in encouraging employers to start talking about their gender equality journey, it states:
“Experience shows that people don’t expect perfection. They expect genuine commitment and improvement. They want to see that organisations have thought about their gender equality strategy and have a clear path forward.”
Helpful in this regard is WGEA’s ‘Communications 10 Point Guide’ to assist employers in developing an effective strategy for communicating with target audiences about their approach to gender equality. And, it offers employers the opportunity to accompany the gender pay gap data published on the WGEA website with a link to an ‘Employer Statement’, which is designed to provide context around the results.
In developing a communication strategy, key steps and considerations include:
- Understanding the gender pay gap, the role of the WGEA and how the employer gender pay gap will be calculated.
- Conducting a stocktake of your organisation’s existing efforts in the gender equality/pay gap space and ensuring they are effectively captured and promoted in applicable communications.
- Identifying key audiences and stakeholders, and the different types of resources to be used to communicate with them.
- Understanding (and being able to clearly explain) your organisation’s gender pay gap results, including causes, and its performance in terms of the national and industry context.
- Explaining how your organisation intends to continue to address the gender pay gap moving forward.
Ideally, this process will help inform and drive the organisation’s underlying response by projecting both a desired end state, and a means of getting there. In essence, how companies speak to the gender pay disparity will go a long way to determining if they are seen as being part of the solution… or the problem.