Energy Australia closes gender pay gap overnight, literally
On the eve of International Women's Day, one of Australia's biggest energy companies has thrown down the gauntlet on equal pay.
- Energy Australia spending $1.2 mil to boost salaries of 350 women, promises review in five years
- Managing director Catherine Tanna says she is "sorry it's taken so long"
- Official figures put the pay gap at 17.3 per cent for base salary
Energy Australia has shut the gender pay gap, announcing women will be paid the same as male colleagues for doing the same job.
The company is spending $1.2 million to boost the pay packets of 350 women who were getting less than their male counterparts, and promising a review in five years to ensure men have not negotiated their way back on top.
Energy Australia's managing director, Catherine Tanna, who also sits on the Reserve Bank board, apologised that it had taken so long to fix the problem.
"I am really pleased that we're able to say this year, 2018, at Energy Australia, we're bridging that gap," she told The Business.
"But I'm sorry that it's taken so long and that our women at Energy Australia have had to wait for this day."
The average pay rise for the affected women will be $3,500.
The company's employees strongly back the move.
"A lot of employees would have a lot of pride that, yes, there is an issue but we have acted and we're telling and sharing our story about that," said Bianca Graham, who is a stakeholder engagement lead.
"I'm like any human being — I've got a mortgage and bills, so the financial benefit is significant.
"But I think there is a lot of symbolism and equality and fairness — I put in the exact same amount of work and high standard of work and pride each and every day I walk through these doors, so it's nice to be recognised equally."
For customer care leader Casey Kaminskyj it is also about much more than just pay.
"The recognition is far more important, it's far more significant," she said.
A long way to go to achieve pay equity
It is a welcome, if modest, boost to the campaign for national gender pay equity.
Way back in 1969, Australian women won the legal right for equal pay for equal work but, almost 50 years later, many are still waiting for their pay packets to reflect that.
Official figures put the pay gap at 17.3 per cent for base salary.
But when bonuses, shift loading and other extras are included, it grows to 22.4 per cent, or an average $26,500 a year.
There are two key reasons — one is a lack of women in management positions and the second is bargaining power, as Libby Lyons, the director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) explained.
"Women are often discriminated against when it comes to negotiating for salaries, when it comes to things like shifts," she said.
Ms Tanna said she hoped the company's move would set a good example for other employers.
"So we're not claiming to be any kind of hero here," she said.
"If it causes another company to pause and think, 'Oh, I might call Energy Australia and talk to them about how they did this', that would be a fantastic outcome."
Some other major firms are setting targets and taking action, so the pay gap has narrowed over the past four years, but it is decreasing at glacial speed and almost half of companies that audit pay are not doing anything to improve the situation.
"Once they find out they've got a pay gap they then realise they have to put an action plan in place to address it and that just becomes too hard and they think there are other business issues that need to take precedence," Ms Lyons said.
Ms Kaminskyj knows there is not always an easy fix.
"It's a complex issue, that's why we haven't fixed it yet," she said.
"There are things like achievement, tenure and experience that are still relevant in this conversation and that's not about gender. What's important here is that we are on the journey."
But Ms Lyons said boards needed to start taking action.
"[The] boards have to step up here and start demanding information about what's happening in their organisation in terms of gender equality, but particularly around pay."
Perhaps it is a sign the times are changing and more companies will follow and give women what is 50 years overdue.