By Erin Taylor


Apparently, the pay is much better if you’re from Mars

It has been a big few weeks here at Aulich with us welcoming a new partner, Charlene Chalker-Harris into the ranks. Char’s entry to the partnership ranks evens out our leadership team to 50/50 male and female.

I feel proud that we have an even number of females and males in our leadership team and I feel proud to have predominantly female staff in our ranks. My bubble was unfortunately burst when I read an article written by the CEO of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) that said there is still a 22.8 percent gender pay gap in the private sector which includes law firms. Even more concerning for me was that despite two thirds of law graduates being females, men are four times more likely to become partners than women.

WGEA put this down to compositional issues, being that in most firms and across the private sector, men still dominate the leadership. Anecdotally, there were also a number of issues that WGEA has challenged law firms to consider in why there is such a disparity between men and women in leadership roles given the disparity in favour of women entering the legal landscape. Some of those issues seem pretty obvious, taking time off to fulfil parental responsibilities and some women not returning to work following that. Is it the case that there is a different perception of women who take time off to parent against that of men who do the same and does this affect the pay gap or affect women returning to work.

Interestingly, according to WGEA there is some research that suggested that some female jobseekers are choosing roles with moderately lower salaries rather than taking a higher paid role in an organisation that has a higher pay gap. The pay gaps are now open to be discussed by employees following the ban on pay secrecy clauses on employment contracts introduced by the Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022 (Cth). This legislation creates a workplace right, allowing employees to ask one and other about their remuneration and disclose it to others.

We have had so many law reforms in this area trying to address the gender pay gap and address the absence of women in leadership. The disconcerting thing as a woman (and mother of two girls) is that despite all this, the pay gap seems as wide as ever. It takes real commitment, from the people already in leadership – i.e. men, to want to change. To allow themselves to be challenged by the women around them and to promote them to an even footing, even if they have parental responsibilities or emotions.

I hope that WGEA can expand on this research and it shows employers that they HAVE to commit to reducing the pay gap AND be able to show it. If not, they will lose the talent. I am lucky enough to have worked and work with people like Charlene, and a group of incredibly talented women and inspire me every day. Our business would not be what it is without them. I look forward to the time when the penny finally drops for the rest of you blokes.