Why do women under-earn, what can women do about it

Research constantly proves the point that women earn less than men.

In Australia, legislation exists to promote and improve gender equality (including equal remuneration between women and men) in employment and in the workplace. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency was set up in 1986 to promote and improve workplace gender equality and administers this legislation.

Women earn 86.7 per cent of what men do, on average, according to the agency.

The latest figures, November 2020, show women’s average weekly full-time earnings across all jobs was $1,562.00 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,804.20. That is a 13.4 per cent difference.

This is known as the gender pay gap, and it means, on average women earn $242 less each week than men.

The situation has been improving since 2014 when the gap was 18.5 per cent, but not significantly in the last 10 years. In 2004 it was 14.9 per cent.

The health care and social services sector has the largest gap – 24.4 per cent.

In the United Kingdom in 2020, the gender pay gap was 15.5 per cent. In the United States, the gap is 16 per cent, and New Zealand is around 9 per cent.

This is a real, long-established, chronic, and truly international which leads to financial stress.

The impact on women is also well documented. Aside from the difference in regular income, which places women under chronic financial stress, there is a gulf between men and women in retirement savings. Women retire with 42 per cent less superannuation than men.

In real terms, if a man retires with $270,710, a woman has just $157,050, according to Australian Super.

It should be self-evident, but productivity between men and women isn’t the reason for the gender pay gap.

Look around at most families and in most offices – it would be difficult to argue with any conviction that women deserve to be paid less for the work they do.

In fact, there is evidence women may be more productive.

According to the American productivity platform Hive, women work 10 per cent harder than men in today’s offices, the World Economic Forum reported.

Hive says both men and women actually complete about 66 per cent of their assigned work. However, women are assigned 10 per cent more work than men these days — that they achieve the same completion rate tells us that they’re being more industrious.

Think about the way life challenges women to multitask in families and society. There are of course individual situations that differ from the norm, but generally, women take the lead on child-rearing and are still doing the lion’s share of domestic duties, despite also working.

Women comprise 47.2% of all employed persons in Australia.

So, more men are employed, by a small percentage, but women perform many more tasks across the day, the week, and the year on average.

This means women are, very generally speaking, are busier and achieving more than men, and women earn between 10 and 20 per cent less than men across the western world.

The reasons for the gender pay gap are many, varied. They include educational differences, occupation, age or family and motherhood. Some of the gender pay gap is down to conscious and unconscious bias – in both men and women.

The biases in men towards paying women at better rates are partly sex discrimination.

In 2016, Australia’s workplace gender equality agency said: The results show that gender discrimination and industrial and occupational segregation persist, and continue to be significant drivers to the gender pay gap.

But some of the unconscious bias in contributing to the gender pay gap also belongs to women.

“Whilst gender barriers do exist, and the pay gap is real, the fact remains that many women undervalue themselves and their contributions,” says behavioural money coach and speaker, Lea Clothier.

“Many women are in fact themselves the barrier to their own success.”

In my experience as a behavioural money coach, I have discovered that many women have a belief in the narrative that they will underearn men. Ms Clothier says.

Under-earning is the reality of earning less than one might expect, given that person’s skills, abilities, experience, qualifications and actual contributions. In other words, being underpaid.

Ms Clothier says persistent societal beliefs such as accepting the idea that men will earn more than men, along with self-worth and confidence are the major barriers that women face.

Many women lack the confidence to take the risk and ask for a pay rise or go for a job with a higher salary.

I also find that many women lack the knowledge on how to successfully negotiate a pay rise or confidence to have challenging conversations.

She says anyone negotiating a pay rise must fully and objectively consider the value that they have contributed.

This means looking at the facts for evidence, getting clear on the contributions made in terms of increased productivity, completion of projects, streamlined efficiencies, increased profitability.

If you can adequately show the value you have directly provided to the company’s people, performance or profits then it can provide evidence to show the value you are bringing in your role and the contribution you have made and can make the pay rise discussion easier to have.

It is both an empowering truth and a difficult one that our own thoughts, words and actions create our reality in life and that also applies to our financial reality.

Disclaimer: Lea Clothier is a product designer and senior leadership team member of Financial Mindfulness.

Why women suffer more from financial stress

Recent studies have found women feeling considerably more financially stressed than men – but why?

In the United States, a recent study of 10,500 employeesby Salary Finance, found more than half of women born between 1981 and 1996 (millennials) are worried about not having enough to retire. In comparison a third of millennial men have the same beliefs.

The study found similar disparities between men and women in Generation X: 44.8 percent of women born between 1965 and 1980 are worried about money issues most or all of the time, while 36.1 percent of men feel the same.

In Australia, NAB’s Australian Wellbeing reportshowed financial anxiety rose, probably due to coronavirus, in 2020. Women were more worried than men.

According to the research women were more worried than men about raising money in a hurry for an emergency, children’s education and rent or mortgage costs.

The most fearful group of all were women over 65.

It’s been happening for years. Back in 2014, the Australian Psychological Society reported “personal financial issues” were a major source of stress for 53 per cent of women but only 44 per cent of men. The APS found three main causes of stress amongst Australians (in order) were personal finance, family issues and personal health.

AMP’s study found the main financial stressors in people’s lives are (in this order), bad debts, home loans, retirement, supporting the family and budgeting.

In the United States, Californian company Financial Finesse found 55 per cent of mothers earning less than US$60,000 reported “high” or “overwhelming” levels of financial stress. Male parents of a similar age group and income level were 40 per cent less likely to feel as bad.

While there are often only small discrepancies between men and women around financial values and stressors, women almost always report more negative feelings about money, even if only marginally.

One explanation for women’s financial stress is historical and current pay inequity. On average Australian women in fulltime work earn 17.3 per cent less than men ($277.70) according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. That gap has “hovered between 15% and 19% for the past two decades”.

In the US, the difference is starker: women on average are paid a third less.

At the same time, women traditionally have had more responsibility for the day-to-day running of the home, such as domestic duties and childcare. In recent times though, generally speaking, women’s involvement in financial decision-making – and sharing costs – in relationships has increased.

One could speculate shouldering more financial responsibility while still earning less and doing more than men at home might be a factor in women’s higher levels of financial stress. There is also evidence that risky behaviours with money, such as impulse spending, are linked to feelings of stress, guilt, boredom and anger.

The problem with financial stress is that it does not just impact our finances, it can have a significant effect on our wellbeing including our physical and mental health along with our relationships, work, behaviour and potentially our environment.

Seeking help around our finances and feelings of financial stress eventually becomes essential.

The help required will vary for individuals. It may be practical financial support, or learning budgeting skills, or seeking assistance to manage the stress of money worries.

One solution for some sufferers of financial stress is to become financially mindful.

Financial mindfulness, is an active process of paying attention to your finances, financial behaviours, attitudes and beliefs around finances. It is keeping awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions and financial environment in mind so that you can make better financial choices.