201705-Chapman-Steve-Prof Feb17

Add parity and flexibility into medicine and women will show how valuable their contribution can be.



It’s an unenviable statistic, but WA now has the highest gender pay gap in Australia. The facts? Women working full-time for WA-based employers earn, on average, 30.9% less than men. And this equates to more than $43,000 a year (2015-16).

It’s not a good look when you see that the national average remuneration gender pay gap is 23.1% ($27,000). If you drill down to look at the medical side of the equation, that doesn’t look too good, either.

Health economist Prof Tony Scott surveyed 3618 GPs and found that female GPs earnt $83,000 or 54% less than male GPs. And the specialists? A 2013-14 analysis from ANU’s Centre for Social Research showed surgeons had an average taxable income of $405,000 compared with $215,000 for women.

This disparity raises the question – if men and women desire success, wealth and power equally and, if they have equal capabilities, why do women continue to take home less pay in their chosen profession? Clearly we don’t yet have equal opportunity, equal recognition and equal rewards.

Parental and carer roles continue to be predominately carried out by women and play a significant part in creating barriers for career progress. We know that women are more willing to take on work that contributes to societal good, but attracts lesser remuneration. Thus with women having significantly less power in the economy, their overall personal earning capacity and sense of financial independence is felt community wide with negative impacts.

In 2016, I became a Workplace Gender Equality Agency Pay Equity Ambassador, joining other national leaders on this agenda. In the same year, the Edith Cowan University received a Citation for Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Agency to mark their achievements to date.

It is imperative that we address gender pay disparity in our science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM)-based professions. This will require more robust processes for matching role competencies against assessments of career performance and regular monitoring of existing pay structures.

ECU is participating in the pilot of the Athena SWAN (hosted by the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative) – a response to the chronic under-representation of women in science leadership. It has the aim of addressing the loss of women in STEMM-based disciplines and currently has 40 universities and research institutions in its membership.

In growing the community’s talent pool, it is important to consider greater flexibility in medical training programs and jobs and examine workplace cultures within speciality areas to achieve the participation of women across the full spectrum of the medical workforce.

Being aware of the existing status quo and letting go of rigid and outdated modes of practice is the first step in working towards significant change. Lack of flexibility in our approaches only reduces choice for women in selecting specialities for medicine and we need to venture outside the box.

References on request

ED: Prof Steve Chapman is the Vice-Chancellor of Edith Cowan University and a Workplace Gender Equality Agency Pay Equity Ambassador.


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