Australia’s pay secrecy ban will unearth disparities well beyond gender

By Therese Raft

Pay secrecy is now banned in Australia. This isn’t just a legislative milestone to be noted by your legal and HR teams. It also flags potential communications challenges to come for executives and communications leaders.

Pay secrecy clauses aside, talking about pay seems a little crass, taboo, and icky. We don’t really do it. However, the new ban may be the permission slip we all need to talk more openly about pay and could usher in a wave of pay transparency.  And when we’re swapping stories about our salaries over the [insert favourite office furniture or social site here], we won’t just make comparisons between our X and Y chromosomes.

More transparency around pay will also unearth disparities between ethnic groups, locations (different states, city v region, in the office v remote), academic backgrounds, parents and non-parents, and even tenures within organisations. I’m sure I’ve missed some dynamics in that quickly rattled off list. And for most companies, there will be unfavourable comparisons to make.

To think people won’t notice, comment – and expect change – on pay inequalities outside of gender pay parity is naïve.

So, are you content that unconscious bias hasn’t infiltrated your hiring, promotion, and salary review processes? Are you prepared to respond to challenges from your own people if discrepancies arise? Do you wait until an issue is highlighted, or do you take the ban as a signal to review your past pay decisions and set policies for future pay reviews now?

What you decide will determine how much control you have over your own narrative. Organisations that investigate, acknowledge room for improvement and plan a pathway forward will be in a better position than those that don’t.

But any activity you undertake needs to happen in the light. Conducting secret reviews and making hush hush adjustments to pay won’t stay secret for long. People talk, and when you forget to take your people on the journey you start to find splinter narratives, supposition in place of fact, and questions about the fairness of it all.

And pay is a hot topic. This kind of transparency is increasingly bleeding into platforms like Glass Door, where people share tales not just about what it’s like to work at a company, but the fairness of pay. It’s increasingly front and centre of early conversations during recruitment where candidates want to know if a role will meet their salary expectations before committing to an interview.

With the cost of living escalating at a faster clip than pay, the pay discussion is about to get even hotter and discrepancies harder to ignore. We all agree equal work deserves equal pay. But we also know theory doesn’t always play out in practice. Look at the gender pay gap in Australia. In 2022 we’re still stubbornly stuck at a 23 per cent pay gap between men and women. No real movement from 2021. We need to see change, and importantly it’s a challenge each and every one of us is invested in.

Executives and company owners; right now, you are still in the driver’s seat.

Put your internal communications channels to work to speak directly to your people about your policies around pay. If there is work to be done, communicate fairly and often. Don’t operate in a silo and create safe spaces for feedback and concerns. Your people are the ones that will live with any changes you make now. And where possible, (and I suggest this applies far beyond discussions around pay) operate with a ‘no surprises’ philosophy.

If you don’t know where to start, seek advice. But don’t ignore the red flag the ban on pay secrecy is waving in our faces. Pay transparency is now clearly in view.

Man holding sign saying 'Equity and Diversity'