The most recent Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) data, released last week (Tuesday 13/11), shows solid progress has been made on closing the gender pay gap over the past five years. However, as the report also points out, there’s still work to be done.

The good news is the gender pay gap has declined every year over the past five, and this year has seen the biggest single-year drop (down 1.1 percentage points) in the average full-time total remuneration gender pay gap.

The three big takeaways from the ‘Australia’s Gender Equality Scorecard 2017-18’ were:

      Strong growth in employer action on gender equality over five years

      Gender pay gap has declined but men earn 21.3% more than women, on average

      Steady increase in women in management and leadership roles 

However, the plain truth is that women’s average full-time base salary across all industries and occupations is still 16.2% less than men’s ($15,457 p.a.) and women’s average full-time total remuneration across all industries and occupations is 21.3% less than men’s ($25,717 p.a.). 

The pay gap leads to both short-term financial shortfalls for women, but also longer term issues of poverty and insecurity. Sadly, single women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing demographic among Australia’s homeless population. Women also leave the workforce when they retire with far less than men in the way of superannuation.

In the same week as the WGEA data was released, the Sydney Women's Fund released a report that serves as a stark reminder of the financial struggle many women face. Among the report’s survey findings: 

      49% of women said they were “struggling or just getting along”;

      73% are “concerned about maintaining an adequate income to remain in Sydney”;

      82% were finding it harder to live in Sydney than a decade ago;

      61% had experienced discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality or disability in the last year;

      49% spend 30% or more of their income on housing; and

      11% are confident they can finance their retirement.

While a base salary rate is often fairly fixed, remuneration through bonuses and other entitlements are often open slather for employees willing to push their boss a little harder at the bargaining table. This is one area in which women can do something at an individual level to make gains, and the key is to become more confident in demanding better remuneration packages.

The biggest gap between men and women for average full-time total remuneration is 30.3% in financial and insurance services, an industry well known for its generous and often bonus-focused remuneration packages. The next biggest gap is in construction at 29.4%. At the other end of the scale, public administration and safety has the smallest gap, at only 4.9% — probably reflective of the lesser tendency and scope for negotiated packages in that sector.

This is where (some) men have had an advantage over (some) women, according to experts.

Speaking to Bloomberg Law, Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s chief human resources officer, said a survey CareerBuilder had conducted about the differences in how men and women negotiate salaries showed the reluctance of women to ask for more.

“When we asked women why they were less likely to negotiate, 57% of women said they just didn’t feel comfortable asking for more money, compared to 42% of men,” Haefner said.

“Forty-eight percent of women said they were afraid the employer would decide not to hire them (versus 44% of men) and 36% said they didn’t want to seem greedy (compared to 35% of men.)”

The gender pay gap data on total remuneration shows women need to ask for what they're worth. Negotiating a better salary package is not going to solve the gender pay gap issue entirely (it’s more complex than just that), but it will make a difference, especially in industries like finance and insurance services.

For far too long, women have been modest in their demands, whereas men will ask the earth, and often get it. It's time women started asking and negotiating for their true worth.