Flexibility a gender gap win for women in government

The pay gap between men and women in the federal public sector is narrower than in private entities but government is trailing companies on men taking parental leave.

The difference between the average pay of women and men in the Commonwealth public sector is 13.5 per cent, lower than 21.7 per cent in the private sector, based on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency's new scorecard.

Women in the public sector were more likely to work full-time - reflecting the normalisation of flexible work in government - and to find themselves on a management team with an even gender split.

Yet on parental leave, the agency found the private sector was ahead, with men accounting for 16 per cent of universal or primary carer's leave compared to 11 per cent in the public sector.

Public sector reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency was one of the recommendations of the landmark Respect@Work report handed down by former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins.

It comes on the heels of the public release of company level data this year, which showed yawning pay gaps at major airlines, big banks and other prominent firms.

While the public sector scoreboard does not yet drill down into individual agencies, Commonwealth departments will have their dirty laundry aired next year.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency CEO Mary Wooldridge
Mary Wooldridge says the public and private sectors need encourage men to take parental leave. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Agency chief executive officer Mary Wooldridge said the gender equality performance results for the public sector were positive.

That was especially because the agency analysis captured a broader cohort of government bodies, such as the NBN and the ABC, which had not reported their gender pay gaps before so the pressure to improve had been lower.

The private sector could learn from the public sector on the active promotion of flexible work, which Ms Wooldridge said was "incredibly positive" and allowed more women to work full-time.

"Having some flexibility in the way that they work enables them to balance and manage other, primarily caring, responsibilities," she told AAP.

More than 70 per cent of women in the public sector work full-time, compared to the private sector where 59 per cent are employed part-time or casually.

Ms Wooldridge said the public and private sector had more work to do to encourage men to take parental leave.

"It was surprising that those results are so low across the board, but even slightly lower for the public sector than the private sector," she said.

Minister for Women and the Public Service Katy Gallagher said there was more to be done despite the public sector having a smaller pay gap than the private sector.

"For example, we know we need to encourage stronger uptake of parental leave by men and part-time workers should not be overlooked for promotion," Senator Gallagher said.

Employers are legally required to pay men and women the same amount for the same work and gender pay gaps are driven by a range of factors, including lower wages in female-dominated sectors.

Men are concentrated in more demanding, higher-paid roles within the same professions because they often have fewer caring responsibilities.