The current national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment is just ‘a red herring’ that ignores something much more scandalous in Australian workplaces, according to freelance journalist and author, Julie Szego.
In a provocative piece published by Fairfax, Ms Szego suggests that the current focus on sexual harassment, in particular the national inquiry, does not address the root cause of discrimination in the workplace – money.
The real problem, she argues, is “women’s inferior status in the workplace relative to men” and argues the key measure of that lower status is that women are paid less than men.
“Unequal pay is a scandal about which we know scandalously little,” she writes.
“Boost a woman’s pay packet, and she usually moves to a higher rung. (And the more economically empowered women are, the more easily they can also leave abusive domestic relationships.).”
The gender pay gap
Ms Szego cites the Workplace Gender Equality Agency which reports there is a gender pay gap in every industry and occupation.
She quotes figures that women in full-time work take home roughly $26,000 a year less on average then men, and in the financial and insurance services industries the difference is as high as $50,000.
She also refers to industries dominated by female employees like healthcare and childcare, which tend to pay less than other male dominated industries.
“We know, generally speaking, that women are financially penalised for having children and taking time out to care for them, while men collect a “fatherhood bonus”,” she writes.
Sexual harassment inquiry ‘a red herring’
Ms Szego believes the current national sexual harassment inquiry will only be worthwhile if it helps businesses “find ‘practical solutions to stamp it out”.
“But something can be worthy while also being beside the point,” she continues. “Or worse, a red herring.
“Because the inquiry, which seeks to capitalise politically on the #MeToo zeitgeist, on our appetite for stories about male sexual misconduct, purports to tackle the symptoms of structural discrimination against women, while leaving the root cause intact.
“The root cause is women’s inferior status in the workplace relative to men. And a key measure of lower status is a smaller pay packet.”
Mandatory gender pay gap reporting
Ms Szego wants Australia to introduce compulsory gender pay gap reporting, which currently exists in the UK and Belgium.
“A female academic recently told me of her shock when she discovered her male colleague of identical standing was earning substantially more than her because he’d managed to secure a dubious “bonus”,” she writes.
“A rigorous reporting scheme would expose these sweetheart deals that are infected by gender bias whether conscious or not.”
Ms Szego claims that pay discrimination and sexual harassment are closely linked, suggesting in both scenarios that women “are targeted for covert humiliation.”
The same pay for the same work
Industrial advocate James Vercoe from Discrimination Claims said the same work should always attract the same pay.
“Whether a job is being done by a male or female employee, if they are doing the same work, they should receive the same remuneration,” he said.
“It’s 2019, not 1950 – there’s no room for a distinction based on sex or gender.
“Most importantly, though, is to ensure that the root cause of discrimination is corrected – whether it be paying less for the same job, or sexual harassment in the workplace.
“It’s quite difficult for me to accept that sexual harassment is a “red herring”. It is an extraordinary abuse of power by whomever perpetrates it, and whether other issues exist in the workplace that also deserve our attention, it would be pernicious to hijack the attention finally being drawn to an issue that causes significant harm to every victim.”
If you have experienced discrimination based on your sex or gender, you may be entitled to compensation.
For help and advice, please call our friendly team at Discrimination Claims on
1300 853 837
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