What industries should you pick if you are looking for equal pay?

What jobs should you pick if you are looking for equal pay?

What jobs should you pick if you are looking for equal pay? Photo: Stocksy

The first thing Lynn Olssen teaches young women in mining is this: how to ask for a pay rise.

Olssen works in that traditionally male industry and she's the general manager of operations for Snowden Group in the Asia Pacific. She's also the chair of the Women in Mining network, which mentors and supports women in the industry.

She's all too familiar with the mining industry's problems with women. Not many of them. And a thumping gender pay gap. Only 16 per cent of employees are women (just one third of a per cent up from last year) and the total remuneration gender pay gap for full-timers is just under 18 per cent, slightly worse than last year.

But the industry is paying serious attention, says Olssen.

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It's the end of the year. You landed a graduate job about two years ago and you've just discovered that the bloke who does exactly – precisely - the same job as you is earning about ten grand a year more. So you start looking for an industry where the pay gap between what women earn and what men earn is less chasmic.

But Carla Harris, the Research and analytics executive manager at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency which has just released brand new figures looking at the gender pay gap, says that's not quite the right approach. You might think teaching or health services. You might look at those slightly less horrifying pay gaps. But Harris says that it's better to look in areas where employers and unions are rethinking entire industries.

She says it's the reason why paid parental leave is mining is utterly awesome. Yes, on average, if you work in mining, your paid parental leave is just under 12 weeks, whereas the health care and social assistance sector – an industry you'd think would be all over that kind of benefit – only averages around eight and a half weeks. 

"Industries that have higher gender pay gap, you might think they would be the ones you want to avoid – but they are doing a lot of work around the fixing the imbalances.

"On the surface they look really bad but they are the ones who are really active in this space," she says.

Olssen agrees. She's been in mining since her first job in Tarmoola goldmine in Western Australia 20 years ago. There were just three women on site.

"I don't think I knew what I was getting in to when I started."

But two decades on, she's seen huge differences. When she went on parental leave with her first child eight years ago, there was no paid support. But the time she had her second, she had paid leave.

"I think the diversity issue in mining is very high profile at the moment and companies are trying to pay attention and do something about it," she says.

That's what Harris means when she talks about industries who've been shamed by their data (not that she would ever use a word like that).

Take finance and insurance. The gender pay gap is devastating – 35 per cent – but that's an improvement from last year when it was 36.1. And the good news is that the level of reporting has also improved, with 238 organisations reporting, compared to 225 last year.

Veronica Black, the national coordinator, organising and development, at the Financial Services Union, fears that at this slow rate of improvement, it will take 35 years to achieve pay equity. Still, the FSU has worked with a number of employers in the industry to conduct joint pay equity audits - to identify where the issues with pay equity exist, and to identify measures to address those factors contributing to the problem.

"For example, women were missing out on pay increases if they were on performance based pay and were away on parental leave when pay reviews were conducted," she says. She and her colleagues are also at the forefront of the struggle to break one of the barriers to pay equity.

"Research has consistently shown that pay systems with high degrees of employer discretion and low transparency produce the worst outcomes for women."

Getting it out there matters.

So, barring a revolution in mining and banking, where should you focus your job hunt if you don't want to wait 35 years.

The smallest pay gap is in public administration and safety with a 'measly' 8.7 per cent – but Carla Harris of WGEA thinks that the sample is too small for really robust data. After that, it's the more predictable education and training sector with 9.3 per cent because it's probably hard to rebuff all the women for payrises when the industry is so female-dominated. Then it's wholesale trades at 10.5 followed by accommodation and food services at 10.9 per cent.

Harris says that the surprising thing for her is that the gender pay gap has actually gone down and she sees that as a result of companies feeling the pressure of reporting their pay gap analysis.

"We are starting to see shifts as industries report," she says. "This data gives us power, you can see what people are doing about it."

And certainly the financial services sector needs to do much more

Victoria Weekes, vice-president of Finsia, a financial services peak body, says the other notable change in 2015 is a significant increase in the number of financial services employers which have specific gender pay equity objectives forming part of their strategy.

They have moved from below industry average to above with 30 per cent of employers having specific pay equity objectives - and an increase in female CEOs from four per cent to six per cent.

"It's a start but just imagine what would happen if we had 50 per cent female CEOs and all employers had specific pay equity objectives - we might just get somewhere.

"While any reduction in the pay gap is a good thing, I would caution the industry against congratulating itself too quickly about this trend. It is a very, very small improvement in a big gap."

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