The media industry’s glaring pay gaps are unacceptable. Here’s what we need to do to fix them

Virginia Scully
By Virginia Scully | 29 February 2024
Virginia Scully.

Not even laws have prevented pay gaps from persisting in media companies. So now we need to take concrete steps to address the issue. Virginia Scully explains.

It's disheartening to see the reality of gender inequality persisting in our workplaces, despite the laws in place to prevent it.

This week’s release of gender pay gap data by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency sheds light on the stark disparities that still exist.

Pay gaps of up to 26 per cent in media firms with gaps ranging between 12 and 18 per cent for multinational advertising holding groups is simply unacceptable.

And frankly, the national average of 21 per cent is dismal.

As quoted by my 11-year-old daughter today, I feel sad, angry, and disappointed.

In a scene reminiscent of the Barbie movie, the conversation between Ken and the Corporate Man reflects a harsh truth: while some may claim to be "addressing patriarchy very well," the reality is that these inequalities are often hidden in plain sight.

Equal pay is not just about paying men and women the same for the same role; it's about addressing the systemic issues that lead to disparities. Factors such as gendered working patterns, unpaid work, sexual harassment, and discrimination all contribute to the gender pay gap.

The lack of representation of women in leadership positions is another glaring issue, with only 10.5 per cent of the top ASX-listed companies being led by women. This, coupled with the burden placed on women to drive change, highlights our ongoing challenges in achieving true gender equality.

While the numbers highlight the problem, what needs the most attention is the steps that can be taken to fix this gap. To have a meaningful impact beyond abiding by the law and delving into the numbers, employers and change agents need to take action.

This starts with providing comprehensive entry-level training for all employees, regardless of gender. Benchmark your workplace to assess its family-friendliness using tools like the one available at Family Friendly Workplaces.

Businesses must implement authentic policies and practices that support flexible work arrangements and develop parental policies that address challenges beyond just paid leave. These policies need to be realistic, accessible and actionable for all employees.

Offer coaching and support for women to upskill at various stages of their careers and stop reserving leadership training opportunities solely for those who have already reached leadership positions.

Peer coaching is another way to start more meaningful conversations that are likely to have a ripple effect more powerful than training alone.

We must address the financial setbacks women face, such as retirement insecurity due to career breaks for childcare and inadequate superannuation contributions. End practices that withhold superannuation. Additionally, we should provide investment opportunities and financial education for women less inclined toward financial responsibility.

To combat the stigma that exists in many workplaces for part-time workers, workplaces can offer intergenerational training and education. We now have four different generations at work and there is a lot to be learnt from one another. Belonging initiatives also open up better communication and employee experiences. Storytelling helps with understanding and connection (even in remote or hybrid workplaces).  

There are tools available to employers that can help such as WGEA's interactive gender pay gap tool that allows businesses to assess their performance and research how other companies are successfully closing the gap.

Instead of dwelling on the truly depressing statistics, let’s consider this moment a turning point. Now is the time to take action and ensure everyone in our industry is paid fairly and equitably for the work they do.

Virginia Scully is a people & culture consultant.

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