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50 Years After Equal Pay Decision, Gender Bias Is Keeping The Pay Gap Alive

It's been 50 years since Australian women won the right to equal pay for equal work.

Where it was once commonplace for women to receive a lower base wage for doing the same job as their male counterparts, it is now unlawful.

Despite the half century that has passed since the landmark legislation, Australia appears to have found itself stalled in progress when it comes to the country's gender pay gap.

In a bid to keep the fight for workplace equality moving forward, Wednesday is [Un] Equal Pay Day -- marking the 59 additional days from the end of the previous financial year that women must work to earn the same pay as men.

In it's most recent report, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency calculated a 14 percent national gender pay gap.

That's an average difference of $241.50 per week between the pay packets of men and women, and is the lowest the gap has been in 20 years.

Image: Getty

"It's good to see that the pay gap is moving in the right direction," Diversity Council of Australian chief executive Lisa Annese told 10 daily.

"But we need to stay focused and we need to stay vigilant and continue to measure it and take action so that we can genuinely close the pay gap to a much more acceptable one."

The gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings across the Australian workforce. As explained by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), it is a symbol of women's position in the workforce in comparison to men.

It is a complex issue with no silver bullet, the result of many different social and economic factors.

But according to a recent KPMG Australia report, She's Price(d)less: The Economics of the Gender Pay Gap, gender discrimination continues to be the biggest contributing factor to the pay gap.

"Gender discrimination contributes to about 39 percent of the gender pay gap," Annese said.

"That could be closed overnight if we decided to not conduct, whether conscious or unconscious, discrimination against women."

In order to move forward, Annesse said Australians must undergo a major cultural change, and break down structural inequalities and long-standing gender-norms which often determine the roles men and women are aligned with.

"Sure government policy can go a long way...but the unconscious bias stuff, the bit that tells us we value the work of men more than women, that's really deeply entrenched in our society and in the roles we attribute to boys and girls from a very early age," she said.

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Dr Meraiah Foley, Deputy Director of the Women, Work & Leadership Research Group at the University of Sydney, urged organisations to identify where gender discrimination is creeping into workplace decisions, and stamp it out.

"Stereotypes and bias contribute to the pay gap at every stage of the employment cycle, from hiring to salary negotiations to promotions," Dr Foley said.

“There is a widespread misconception that the gender pay gap can be attributed to individual choices. However, decades of research clearly shows that stereotypes influence employers' attitudes about who belongs in certain jobs and how much they should be paid. These attitudes, which often operate at an unconscious level, place women at a systematic disadvantage."