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ARTICLE: Addressing gender pay disparities in engineering

POSTED: 08 Jul, 2024

Manufacturing is one of the top 3 engineering-heavy sectors in Australia, employing more than 46,000 qualified engineers. The manufacturing sector currently has a 70% male workforce, as discussed by Australian Cobotics Centre PhD candidate Akash Hettiarachchi in his recent webinar. The importance of gender equity to Australia’s global competitiveness in manufacturing was also highlighted in a recent parliamentary inquiry, which recommended a national strategy to attract and retain under-represented groups (including women) to advanced manufacturing careers. Manufacturing organisations, government departments and industry bodies are making concerted efforts to increase gender balance in the sector so they can achieve the benefits of a diverse workforce. 

At present, only 14% of engineers working in Australia are women. I was recently invited by the Australasian Tunnelling Society and Engineers Australia to present and be part of a panel at an International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) event, Bridging the Gap: Addressing Gender Pay Disparities in Engineering. INWED celebrates women’s contribution to the engineering profession and the 2024 theme is Enhanced by Engineering. However, in all industry sectors and occupations in Australia and most of the world, women’s contribution is still under-valued in terms of pay.  

The current gender pay gap in Australia (the difference between the average earnings of men and women), is 21.7% including full time, part time and casual workers and payments such as bonuses, overtime and commission. This means that on average, for every $1 a male worker makes, a female worker makes 78 cents. The gap is still 13.7% even when only including the base salaries of full-time workers. National statistics, the international Global Gender Gap Index, company reporting, and research show that a gap exists even when considerations such as experience and education are controlled for, and only part of the gap can be attributed to different career choices. A gender pay gap exists across nations, industries, occupations and at different levels of pay. It is however higher in male dominated industry sectors, industries with higher bonus, overtime or commission payments, higher paid roles, and organisations with fewer women in leadership. 

At the Bridging the Gap event, we discussed the gender pay gap, the policy and reporting framework in Australia, and actions that individuals, managers and organisations can take to address pay disparities.  

For the first time in 2024, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published the gender pay gaps of all private sector employers with 100 or more staff members. The WGEA Data Explorer provides a rich source of data for anyone interested in the gender equity performance, policies and strategies of their own and other organisations. As well as gender pay gap data, policy and action, you can use the WGEA Data Explorer to see and compare industry and employer data on other indicators including the composition of the workforce and boards, access to and use of flexible work and parental leave by men, women and managers, employee consultation and harassment. Initiatives such as conducting and acting on the results of a gender pay audit, making pay more transparent, increasing the proportion of women in leadership, identifying and removing gender bias from recruitment and promotion decisions, and encouraging men to access flexible work and parental leave can all improve the gender pay gap.  

Australian Cobotics Centre Program 5 (The Human-Robot Workforce) has several researchers with experience in researching gender equity. We can assist companies of all sizes to consider how they can evaluate gender equity and realise the benefits for their organisation.  

About the author

Melinda’s research interests focus on decent work, reward and recognition, and learning and development. Her approach combines public policy, employment relations and human resources management theory. She is the program leader of the Centre for Decent Work and Industry’s Sustainable Transitions ... more