Special Address To The Women, Super And Wealth Summit

2.40pm | April 27, 2017

I’d like to start by acknowledging we meet on the traditional lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’d also like to acknowledge Andrea Slattery and thank her for her invitation to participate today. I also want to thank her for her enthusiastic and collaborative approach over the time we’ve worked together.

Andrea – I’ve always appreciated your openness and willingness to engage – whether the conversation was easy or hard you’ve always been up for it. I know you’re taking on new challenges, but you’ll be missed here.

I’m incredibly pleased to see so many assembled to consider women, super and wealth.

It is simply unacceptable that so many women today retire with so little.

It is unacceptable but it is not a mystery. Retirement wealth is a direct outcome of lifetime income; the villain of this piece is the Gender Pay Gap.

The difference in lifetime income between men and women and the compound nature of superannuation directs a magnifying glass on women’s poor wages. It deepens the divide between women and men over time.

Even worse, business as usual will deliver pretty much the same outcome in twenty years’ time.

I’m very committed to adjusting our retirement system to respond to this, and there has been many great insights on display today.

But today I want to focus my remarks on the issue of pay equity.

If you were a woman working in Australia in the 1960s, you earned 25 percent less than a man. It wasn't just discrimination -- it was the law.

It was in the 1950s that the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration ruled that women’s pay rates should be 75% of the male rate.

Nearly twenty years later, the 1969 Equal Pay Case adopted the revolutionary idea that women should have equal pay to men. Not straight away, but phased in over 4 years.

A lot has changed since then. Governments have adjusted, employers have adjusted, and women have broken through more than one glass ceiling.

It puzzling then that for the past 20 years, the gender pay gap has been stuck above 15 percent.

The pace of change is glacial. The World Economic Forum estimated that if we maintain the current pace of progress, it will be 170 years before women and men achieve global pay parity.

How can this be, if equal pay is a legal requirement?

In part, the answer lies in understanding the segregated nature of our workforce.

Chances are when a senior manager sits across the desk from her colleague she's paid less than him. This is the gender pay gap as most people commonly understand it. It is unfair and it definitely should be fixed, however it isn't the only problem.

Today, 30% of the gender pay gap comes from the fact that the maintenance man at that senior manager's building is a man, and he's probably paid more than the female cafeteria worker. Her mother is looked after by an aged-care worker who is probably a woman, and is probably paid less than the man who services her car.

This dynamic plays out in workplaces across the country. In fact, most Australians work in industries with a gender bias.

The problem is that jobs and industries dominated by women are less well paid than those dominated by men.

In addition to the 'glass ceilings', we should be talking about the 'glass walls'. These are the walls that stand between poorly paid female-dominated occupations and industries, and the more highly paid male-dominated ones.

These glass walls are a major driver of women's continuing economic and social disadvantage. It is difficult to achieve financial and personal independence if you are stuck in low-paid jobs and industries.

This is why I’m chairing a senate inquiry into gender segregation in the Australian workforce. Irrespective of what jobs men and women have, their pay must fairly reflect the difficulty and economic value of the work. That's not the case today.

Female dominated professions earn considerably less than male dominated professions.

KPMG has found that for each 10 per cent increase in the ratio of men to women in an industry, the average wage increases by 1.9 per cent

There are some people who would say that this is just the market in action -- we simply value these skills differently.

In fact, that's the very heart of the problem -- we value men and women's work differently.

Indeed, there is evidence that as women begin to dominate a particular profession or type of work, its pay starts to shrink compared to other jobs.

Research from Cornell University used United States census data from 1950 to 2000. The findings are relevant here in Australia.

When large groups of women became designers, wages fell 34 percent. When they became biologists wages fell 18 percent.

The reverse is true when a job attracts more men. Computer programming was once considered a routine administrative task, most often done by women.

When the balance shifted to male programmers being the norm, computer programming jobs increased in status – and remuneration.

The dynamic is particularly acute in the areas that involve caring, such as childcare, in-home disability and aged care, and education.

These jobs draw on skills described as ‘emotional labour’, also known as soft skills.

Emotional labour has become an increasingly prominent feature of our labour market, as an outcome of the broad structural shift away from jobs in manufacturing to those in service industries.

Service industry jobs almost always involve human interaction, whether face to face or voice to voice. These jobs feature transactions of varying complexity between two or more human beings.

Even roles that might appear to be simple and process-oriented, like telecommunications call centre workers, require emotional labour from their employees, by virtue of the human interactions.

So what is emotional labour? The concept was established by American sociologist Arlie Hochschild, and she defines it as the ‘regulation of emotional expressions and feelings as part of the paid work role’.

Emotional labour operates on two levels. The surface level is best understood through the scenario where a female waitress fixes on her smile and stays polite in response to rude customers. She’s seething on the inside, but she doesn’t let it show.

We’ve probably all worked somewhere with a sign in the staffroom that reads ‘The Customer is Always Right’. That describes Surface Acting emotional labour.

Deep Acting emotional labour is an internal process where the employee will actively seek to adjust their feelings to support the display of the expected emotions.

This is often essential for workers in the caring professions and health care, who are required to manage their emotional and intellectual responses to patients or clients.

This allows them to deliver services in a consistent way and is an incredibly important but unacknowledged feature of caring sectors. We would all be disturbed by the idea that obnoxious people would receive inferior care at hospital. And indeed, when our caring institutions work well, this consistent care for all customers is exactly what’s delivered.

It comes at a cost though. The product of emotional labour at work is stress. When there’s a divergence between the emotion we’re feeling and the emotion we’re displaying, we experience emotional dissonance. Research shows that over time emotional labour can cause tension, anxiety, depression and conflict at home.

Producing emotional labour – without burning out – requires real skill. And it is essential to the care economy. Imagine being nursed by someone with no empathy. You wouldn’t leave your aged parent in the care of someone unfeeling. These skills are in fact highly valuable.

However, historically, our wage setting system hasn’t valued these skills.

They are skills that have been considered inherently female, part of “being nice”. They’re also the same skills women use to perform the tasks they do for free at home.

It seems very clear that emotional labour, which carries such a great personal penalty, should be considered under the umbrella of work value, and remunerated accordingly. Unfortunately, it is not.

These are all issues being addressed through this Senate Inquiry. So far we have had 42 submissions and two days of hearings. We have heard some fascinating testimony.

The job of the committee is now to consider how the parliament should respond.

Innovative and practical ideas are emerging and we're going to need them if we don't want the gender pay gap to remain unchanged for another 25 years.

I’m sure you share my vision of economic independence for women, both in their working lives and in retirement. With a persistent gender pay gap and undervaluation of feminised industries, we have some work to do.

Glass ceilings and glass walls don't smash themselves.

Thank you.