The Answer to Pay Equity - Cross Dressing!

Looking for a way to make sure that men and women have equal pay? The answer is cross-dressing. But before I go there, let’s talk about paint samples.

We are looking at the same paint sample and we are arguing.

About colour.

I say it’s the most gorgeous blue I’ve ever seen. And he says: ‘'That’s not blue, it’s green.’'

We discover there are 50 shades of grape. I think most are red and he thinks most are purple.

What we name things matters. It means we aggregate the conversation. We’re all on the same page, the same paragraph, the same sentence. Pay attention here!

Which is why a new survey from the Financial Services Institute of Australasia (FINSIA) should concern women everywhere. Men think everything is purple – but we see red. Let me give you some background of why point of view matters.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, which released its research earlier this year, calculates figures from average weekly earnings, comparing full-time to full-time. Almost like-meets-like but we don’t know exactly what those full-timers do.

Those figures show the pay gap between men and women across Australian workplaces is nearly 20 per cent.

The FINSIA research is troubling for other reasons – the pay gap for those who work in financial services is 30 per cent, the widest in any industry; and the blokes who work there don’t care.

Or see purple where women see black.

Maybe I’m overstating but when men were asked in the FINSIA study if women were well-represented at senior levels in their organisations, a sturdy two-thirds of those surveyed said yes. And nearly two-thirds of women said no.

What are the facts? The EOWA figures show that women make up, ahem, a rocketing 12 per cent of chief executives overall – but barely scrape at 8 per cent in financial institutions. And the men surveyed thought that was the definition of well-represented. I guess that’s what it’s like, working in a parallel universe.

Those numbers tell us about the story today – but what about planning for the future?

When men were asked if promoting and advancing women were priorities, again two-thirds said yes. And two-thirds of women said no or weren’t sure.

Of course they weren’t sure. If there is one condition that’s endemic in organisations, it’s a lack of transparency about pay – and again, nearly three-quarters of the women surveyed said their companies were not transparent (the good news is that percentage has declined since the last time FINSIA did the survey in 2010). The blokes were pretty happy though – more than half thought the way pay worked in their organisations was crystal clear.

So, if we know that gender equity works for management (and there are many academic studies that show an improvement in corporate governance when women sit on boards), why isn’t there a better trickle-down effect?

It may be the pie phenomenon.

Leslie Cannold, ethicist and novelist, says it works like this: men start to see that women are equal in organisations well before that equality happens. She says research about perceptions reveals that as soon as women get to around one-third in numbers, men think women have reached 50 per cent.

Which is why when I told Cannold about the FINSIA research finding that men thought women were well-represented at the top, she started laughing. It’s the pie syndrome. The women have a third of the pie – but the men overcompensate and assume it’s more.

‘'Then men start saying that women are dominating, that it’s an advantage to be a woman,’‘ she says.

But the other obvious answer is that men can’t live the female experience. As Cannold says, there have been so many examples of why it’s good to have a go in someone else’s shoes – and she cites the examples of the way in which teenagers are turned off early parenthood when they have to take care of an egg for days on end. And perhaps it’s true that when chief executives go on the CEO sleepouts, they have some idea of what it’s like to be homeless.

Which is why I think I have an answer for pay equity in organisations everywhere.


I’m going to pitch a new reality show to the makers of Undercover Boss. And before I even get to that pitch, I’m going to write to the blokiest of blokes who run banks and other financial institutions in Australia, Cameron Clyne, who runs NAB. Easily 180 centimetres.

Because it’s up to the top to fix the bottom – the FINSIA figures say that 80 per cent of men think legislated targets to fix gender equity will only encourage the idea that women will be promoted because of their gender, not their ability. And two-thirds of men think women now have the same opportunities as they do. Women, at 20 per cent, are not convinced.

Back to Mr Clyne. I’m going to take him shopping and buy him a pair of Christian Louboutins; wouldn’t he be a killer in heels? And then I’m going to suggest that he and his male colleagues spend a bit of time walking the walk.

Publication history

The answer to pay equity? Cross-dressing  The Canberra Times