PwC wage transparency push could improve women’s compensation

PwC Australia announced on Tuesday it would disclose its pay ranges for staff for the 2023 financial year, in a move it said would help it retain and attract staff in a competitive job market.

PwC Australia announced on Tuesday it would disclose its pay ranges for staff for the 2023 financial year, in a move it said would help it retain and attract staff in a competitive job market.

But workplace relations experts say it could also work to put more weight behind levers available to close the gender pay gap.

The combined factors of a tight job market, social pressure driven by an energized women’s movement and recent cases exposing gendered pay in corporate Australia have placed new pressure on Australia’s biggest companies, they say.

The pay bands unveiled by PwC include superannuation but not bonuses and range from $55,600 to $120,000 for the most junior ranked employees, and from $164,300 to $362,000 for directors.

Staff will also be given access to an internal ‘Incentive Estimator’ calculator to work out what their bonus is likely to be within each salary band, PwC said.

Senior economist at The Australia Institute’s Center for Future Work Alison Pennington says Australia stands out internationally for pay secrecy practices, including clauses in employment contracts that ban workers from talking about pay.

“It is rightfully being exposed as a workplace relations practice that reproduces intra-firm gender pay gaps,” Pennington tells SmartCompany.

According to Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the national pay gap sits at 13.8%.

Furthermore, the financial services sector has one of the largest gender pay gaps by industry, she says, that’s reinforced by policies that force secrecy around wages.

The announcement follows moves by Commonwealth Bank (CBA) and Westpac to remove pay transparency clauses that forbid employees from discussing pay with colleagues earlier this year.

On April 2, CBA removed pay secrecy clauses in its contracts in response to union claims that managers were disciplining workers for talking about their pay.

The policy change followed Westpac decision to waive the obligation in its contracts at the end of March.

Now all four of the big banks have removed pay transparency clauses.

Christine Parker, group executive, human resources at Westpac said in a statement shared with SmartCompany that Westpac hoped the policy shift would contribute to broader pay equity initiatives.

”With our focus on gender pay equity, it’s another thing in the toolbox to assist with that,” Parker said.

“Having open and transparent conversations and measuring that is what changes things.”

Pay secrecy disproportionately impacts women

In its investigation into pay secrecy at CBA, the Financial Service Union found workers reported a strong culture of fear and silence, particularly among female employees.

Until recently the bank’s individual contracts contained a confidentiality clause that prevented an employee from discussing their pay, the union noted.

“I think through public pressure in relation to the gender pay gap, and the women’s moment that they’ve seen across public debate, I think they realize that this just wouldn’t fly,” Pennington said of the CBA’s policy change.

Pennington says internal research shows the gender pay gap at Australian banks results in reduced compensation for women of close to half a billion dollars every year, and potentially up to $800 million.

It’s not the only factor keeping pay disclosure under wraps, she says, but it’s a “practice that reinforces the gap”.

Moves like that of PwC that tell employees they are not only aware of these inequalities but that they are willing to take steps to make them transparent and discuss them, “that creates a more harmonious and comfortable workplace for anyone to be in”.

“I think it’s a good move by PwC to acknowledge that, if you are interested in valuing, respecting, retaining your staff, removing practices that prevent them from communicating with each other, including on issues of pay and compensation, is in its [the company’s] broader interests in the long term.”

Hareta McMullin, founder and leadership coach at Third Space tells SmartCompany it would also serve to rebuild trust in organizations that benefited over the past two years of the pandemic.

“People have a low level of trust in corporate leadership,” McMullin said.

In a statement Tom Seymour, PwC chief executive, said: “In sharing our new pay bands publicly we hope to continue to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and to attracting and retaining the best people in the market by ensuring our reward strategy is the best in the industry.”

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