Why Asking For a Fair Go Is Risky and How to Solve It.

The image of the laconic Aussie bloke saying ‘Fair go mate’ is one that many Australian’s are familiar with. We even had a Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who famously first used a variant of the phrase: ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’ in 2006. Well now its my time to echo our 26th Prime Minister and say ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, because whilst many of us love Australian slang and phraseology, it seems that it doesn’t translate to providing women in Australia an actual fair go.

I don’t assume that everyone knows just how much Australian women are ripped off, so I’m going to provide some enlightenment. I might add, that I know when I publish this article, I will get the usual howls of protest that the gender pay gap doesn’t exist, that the numbers are wrong, that women just choose to be paid less etc. Believe me, don’t waste your time. This is proven data, gathered by an independent body, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

Fair Go, Unless You’re a Woman

Libby Lyons, Director of WGEA, says “men still out-earn women, on average, by 21.3%. Pay gaps persist in every industry, occupation and manager category.” The gender pay gap in favour of men, or extent of a lack of a fair go for women is on average $25, 717 per annum. The details expressed as a percentage:

  • 21.3%  gender pay gap across all industries.
  • 29.4% gender pay gap in construction
  • 30.3% gender pay gap in banking and insurance
  • 16.1% gender pay in health services (despite being a female dominated industry)

In other words, in like for like roles, women are systematically paid less than men.I had been analysing this data (again) last week so that I could help a client build their gender action plan. I wondered what womencould do to signal to employers, recruiters and hiring manager that this is no longer an acceptable situation. Turns out, I opened Pandora’s box!

Crowdsourcing Solutions

Whenever I want to get unfiltered, expert opinion on the lived experience and expectations of women, I go straight to the source. Women! I asked the members of my #WWGI networking group a question to help me help my client. I asked:

“A genuinely curious question. If you’ve been through a recruitment process in the last year, did you or the hiring manager at any time ask/advise what the organisations policy is on managing the gender pay gap?”

The responses to my question didn’t really surprise me initially, but as always with this awesome group of 3000 women, I received some great advice and additional facts that I hadn’t necessarily considered. Here’s what women said:


“I didn’t ask but during my induction gender equity at the organisation was discussed including the pay gap. I’m part of the equity and inclusion working group for my organisation and also for the sector I work in as a whole. Great question Michelle and I’ll be interested to read of others experiences in this space.”


“No, but I should have. Good question!”


“I asked am I paid the same as my male colleagues in the same role during salary negotiation and disappointed that I was paid less due to less tenure in the company. I don’t believe that should be a factor as I bring in different skills”


“No, there was no discussion on org policy on managing the gender pay gap. I should and will ask this in my next interview.”


“Unfortunately no and I really wish I had. I’ve since found out that two of my male colleagues are in the higher bracket even though one of them has the same level of experience as me”


“I reviewed companies statements online prior to applying for roles with them and focused on organisations that stated they had either addressed the issue or were actively addressing the issue. I also then openly discussed it through the process. I come out of a male dominated area where the gender gap is likely higher than the average and made the decision that this would be an important factor in who I’d next work with in a permanent capacity.”


“What a great question! I never been advised by any hiring managers about how their organizations managing they gender pay gap.. I actually been told on one or two occasions that there’s no such thing as gender pay gap 🙄#seriously.”


It’s not just about pay alone either. We know that inequity occurs across pay AND conditions for women. Workplaces have been built, assembled and run for centuries with the needs of men in mind, therefore looking at all of the micro-inequities that are occurring for women in your workplace is wise advice.

“I always find this topic interesting. Having spent 18 years in an operational role as a female it has never been about pay. On a majority of sites I spend time walking long distances to get to the only female toilet let alone tea or coffee facilities. For me it’s about creating safer and more inclusive work environments” – WWGI Member

I would also add, that women have been in the workforce in great numbers now for more than 40 years, so its more than time to change it! 
It appears women are not (yet) asking about pay inequity at interview stage. They certainly do their due diligence about the company, its culture and other matters, but pay equity does not appear to be front of mind. I found this fascinating. My thinking about this issue was like a ping pong ball, bouncing around! It shouldn’t have to be up to women (the cohort that are being discriminated against) to keep an employer or potential employer accountable. However, if women are not asking, and therefore resetting mutual expectations, how can recruiters, hiring managers and leaders ensure that we women are being paid fairly and equitably? Gah, the conundrum!

Asking For a Fair Go Comes at a Cost

We know that agitation, activism and even advocacy about closing the gender pay gap can come at a cost to those seeking fairness. We also know that simply asking for a fair go if you are a First Nations women or a women of colour is highly risky.

“not forgetting disabled women too, who also have truly appalling stats in representation and advancement in the workforce” – WWGI member

The challenges for disabled and transgender women are steep. Up to 50% of transgender people hide their identity at work, and workforce participation for disabled women is a mere 45/5% (compared to able-bodied women at 71%). 10% of LGBTIQ people report hearing and being the target of homophobic abuse in the workplace.
There is inherent risk in agitating for a fair go when one doesn’t hold the power in the relationship. The only conclusion I can draw is that these communities of women are highly unlikely to ‘rock the boat’ by asking for pay equity, if their day-to-day lived experience in the workplace is poor.

The Expert Advice

So this is the problem. Women from all walks of life are experiencing pay inequity and workplaces do not typically have the systems and culture to remove the burden of inequity from those affected.
I asked the experts (HR directors and Execs) to weigh into the conversation. I wanted to hear the good news, from organisations that are taking a systematic approach and removing the burden from female candidates and those seeking pay rises and promotions.
Shanyn Payne, a leading HR Executive from OES, an organisation that has won numerous awards for being a great workplace, gave some great advice. Her advice is:
  1. The priority is to have robust remuneration principles in place, with a good benchmarking framework. This ensures that equitable principles are being applied across your workforce.
  2. Shannon’s mantra is that leaders must be able to defend and justify each persons salary. If someone is paid more than a colleague, leaders must be able to  have a transparent conversation with them as to why.
  3. Annual gender pay gap audits are essential. Do not rely on simply reporting to WGEA, ensure the organisation has a robust internal audit process and cycle.
  4. Audit and assess out of cycle salary increase requests to make sure there is no imbalance occurring.
  5. Create an environment where everyone feels comfortable talking to their manager and HR about remuneration and to encourage everyone to have this conversation.


“We put a lot of effort in training managers to have the knowledge and skill to have these conversations.” – Shanyn Payne


In summary, women DO want a fair go. However its time for ALL of us, particularly organisational leaders to say ‘Fair Go!’ Because it must not be left to those who do not hold power to fix systems, policy, process and culture so that women in Australia can get an actual fair go.


If your organisation wants to get serious about equity, equality, inclusion and belonging, then contact Michelle for a confidential, no-obligation discussion. 

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