Gender pay gap remains 'disappointing'

Finbar O'Mallon
Workplace Gender Equality Agency says women earned $25K a year less on average than men in 2018-19

New pay data for the private sector has been dubbed "disappointing" by the director of Australia's gender equality watchdog.

Men in the private sector are still taking home more per year than their female workmates, according to figures from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

In its annual scorecard released on Tuesday, the agency says male full-time workers on average took home 20.8 per cent, or $25,000, more than women in 2018-19.

The figures are based on data provided to the agency by non-public sector employers with more than 100 staff and takes into account super, bonuses and other allowances.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data in August put the national pay gap for public and private sectors at 14 per cent based on annual salaries.

In WGEA's scorecard, it found in Australia's most female-dominated industry, healthcare and social assistance, work to close the pay gap was actually going backwards.

In 2015-16, there was a 14.7 per cent pay gap between men and women in that industry, which has since risen to 15.9 per cent.

Director Libby Lyons said employers could not become complacent in addressing gender equality.

"I'd have to say overall I'm disappointed this year ... I think it would be fair to say that it's modest improvement at best," she told AAP.

Ms Lyons pointed to the pay gap as well as the lack of female chief executives or board members.

She said the number of female board members, which stood at 26.8 per cent in 2018-19, had been stagnant about the 24 per cent to 26 per cent mark for the past six years.

Ms Lyons said upping the number of women in companies, as well as increasing their pay packets, would boost the national economy and business profits.

"It is the smart thing to do," she said.

Ms Lyons said the recent news that Macquarie boss Shemara Wikramanayake was Australia's highest-paid chief executive was the "exception rather than the rule".

She said in previous years the agency had witnessed dramatic jumps in the pay gap but these had since slowed.

Ms Lyons said she was heartened by the growing number of employers having a strategy around domestic violence and offering more related leave.

While more than 75 per cent of the employers that provided data to the agency had a gender equality strategy, only 32.2 per cent had introduce gender equality KPIs.

Women's Minister Marise Payne said the WGEA's latest scorecard showed there was still work to do but there was positive improvement in some areas.

"The government is working with business to increase women's leadership in the private sector, which is the largest employer of Australian women," she said.

She pointed to the pay gap being 17.2 per cent in 2013.