This International Women's Day instead of having it all, it's time to share it all

Kate Woods

Author: Kate Woods 

BNat, MPharm | Pharmacist, Gosford Hospital Central Coast Local Health District |

[Pharmacy GRIT Article No: 2023001]

This month celebrates International Women's Day. At SHPA's Medicines Management 2022, our incoming President Tom Simpson asked the question — who is our SHPA member today? Simply, the majority of us are women, we make up 79% of the profession.1 Consequently, many of us are mothers, or will become mothers in the future. The image that comes to mind, however, is a popular meme of a middle-aged woman who looks like she’s been in a fight with a wild animal and won — triumphant but dishevelled. The meme reads ‘me balancing career, family, gym session, preparing healthy meals and maintaining a social life’. It feels like today, in trying to ‘have it all’ we are perhaps not reaching the work/life balance we desperately need. More importantly, there remains a persistent, entrenched, economic inequality between men and women’s earnings, that can have dire consequences for the lives of women beyond their working life and into retirement.

What is the Gender Pay Gap? 

The Gender Pay Gap (GPG) has been getting a lot of press lately. The Albanese government has boasted a $7 billion investment toward driving gender equality and recognises that getting more women into paid work is good for our economy.2 It has committed to reducing childcare costs, expanding parental leave, and in February, the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023 (Cwth)3 was introduced to Parliament. The bill seeks to make gender pay gaps within the private sector publicly available — a key reform to drive transparency and action.2

But broadly speaking, the definition of the GPG is often not well understood. A common misconception is that the GPG describes a man getting paid more than a woman for the same job. And you might be mistaken in assuming that in the public health sector, where there is an award wage, and in a female-dominated workforce, gender discrimination and pay equity is not an issue. But it’s far more reaching than just unequal pay.

The GPG reflects the total distribution of salary.4 To put it simply, why at the end of a fortnight, do more wages go into the pockets of men, than women? This can be explained by taking into consideration the time spent in work — more men work full-time hours compared to women — and differences between the hourly rates of men and women. So, the GPG accounts for positionality, and that more men hold higher paid roles the higher up they are on the seniority ladder.4

The Australian government is world leading in calculating our country’s GPG. This is thanks to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cwth),5 that requires by law, all non-public sector employers with more than 100 staff to report their gender pay gap audit annually. The latest figures, released December 2022, report Australia’s current GPG is sitting at 22.8% — the same as the previous year’s figure.6 It shows men earned on average $26,596 more than women in 2022 — that’s an average of $511 more each week. When you adjust the numbers to account for people working part-time, the GPG balloons to 30%, equal to $673 each week. To fully appreciate the difference in lifetime earnings, it’s sobering to learn that women retire with an average 26% less superannuation than men. What’s more, we statistically live longer. Modelling has shown women need to contribute an extra 2% more in superannuation, just to maintain the same level of retirement income.7

The motherhood penalty

The GPG markedly widens when women have children, universally referred to as the ‘motherhood penalty’. An Australian woman will see her earnings reduce by an average of 55% in the first five years after her child is born and her earnings remain lower for up to a decade, setting her up for a lifetime of economic inequality. This is predominantly driven by two factors; firstly, a significant reduction in employment of women in their child’s first year of life, and secondly, for those who return to employment, most are likely to return in a part-time capacity, which does not recover even five years after having children.8

While it may be easy to assume that it is a woman’s choice to take time out of work to accommodate caring responsibilities, when male partners earn a higher wage and typically have less work flexibility, those choices are almost made for her. This is why federal and state governments have made changes to parental leave policies including gender-neutral claiming and allowing Parental Leave Pay to be shared equally between parents on a flexible basis.9 These changes are a concerted effort to normalise dads as active carers and break down outdated gender roles. 

A third driver, although to a lesser extent, is that mother’s hourly wage is lower compared to childless women and men, suggestive of differences in how women of child-bearing age and mothers with young children, are valued in the workplace. Gendered norms and cultural expectations of women as primary caregivers create both conscious and unconscious bias around perceived competence, work effort, and fear of the risk of future pregnancies and consequent time out of work, all leading to inhibited career opportunities and career progression.10,11

Adding to this alarming inequity is the impact of separation and divorce. While mothers don’t usually plan for a future on their own, the average length of a marriage before it ends in divorce is now sitting at 12 years. And by the age of 60, if you are a single woman living in Australia, there is a 34% chance that you are living in poverty.12 A government inquiry into homelessness in Australia found an increasing number of women are retiring in poverty and females over 55 years are the fastest growing cohort of homelessness.13 What are the factors affecting this? Women in this position have not benefited from compulsory superannuation; they have likely been paid lower than their male counterparts throughout their lifetime; they have worked more part-time hours; they have taken time out of work to care for children; they have limited capacity to earn extra income because of their age and because this group of women have experienced lifelong systemic discrimination in relation to past employment practices for married or pregnant women.14 Spare a thought too, for the four out of five single parents who are women. Three hundred thousand of whom are living on or below the poverty line. 15

Equal participation of women in the workforce has economic benefits for her family in the present day and for her future self — whatever that may look like. As women, if we truly want economic equality, we need to take ownership of our own bias when it comes to taking on the role of primary care giver. Because we cannot tackle this systematic issue without supporting and empowering men to share in the responsibilities at home, and that means letting go of the guilt and expectations we place on ourselves. Likewise, not all senior positions are taken up by men, and female leaders need to reflect on their own bias and discrimination in the workplace, particularly in a female-dominated workforce, where we can be our own worst enemy.  

Dads as equal carers

There is an equally important gap occurring in the workplace that also needs to be recognised and it relates to dads. Dads are becoming more involved in childcare however gendered expectations of men being the full-time breadwinner persist.16 Research in Australia has found one in three dads report experiencing work-family conflict with high psychological stress as a result.17 Research also shows that half of men working full-time work over 45 hours each week, and when accessing flexibility, it is not to reduce their hours, but rather, to accommodate childcare.18 Men, as equal carers, lack support as much as women lack equal pay. Men are twice as likely than women to have their requests for flexible work arrangements rejected. And when men do request flexibility at work, they are far more likely than women to experience discrimination and be perceived as less dedicated to their work.19

The health care sector is the most female-dominated industry in Australia, yet we still have a gender pay gap that favours men. This is likely explained by more men holding higher paid leadership positions. Compare this with the mining sector, where the GPG is comparable but in a much more male-dominated industry, suggests gender segregation at the leadership level is less pronounced.6 The female-dominated health workforce is also one of the least-likely industries to conduct a review of gender equity at work.20 But conducting a gender gap analysis is valuable for all organisations and the data doesn’t lie…

Conducting a GPG analysis at NSW Central Coast Local Health District

In April 2022, our hospital pharmacy department undertook an audit using the GPG Calculator, a tool of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.21 The department comprised of 110 staff members filling approximately 85 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions. The process was undertaken using de-identified base salaries and total remuneration, including overtime hours, of all employees over 12 months. Any employee working part-time, or who had not worked the entire 12-month period, had their income adjusted equivalent to full-time hours.

Our pharmacy department’s GPG from June 2021 to June 2022 was 15%, and showed men earned, on average, $300 per week more than women. But I want to stress — the calculator does not account for part-time hours; all salaries were adjusted to reflect full-time equivalent pay. Considering about 40% of our department works part-time, and most of those people are women, the actual earnings figure is likely much wider. The audit found men made up 13% of our entire pharmacy department but were twice as likely to hold leadership positions. This is reflected in last year’s national Gender Equity Scorecard that showed men are twice as likely to be in the top income bracket as women, and are significantly more likely to hold managerial positions, even in female-dominated industries.6

When we peel back the driving forces that influence the distribution of wages, I don’t believe it’s the overt discrimination of a man being selected over a woman because of her sex. More often, it’s a full-time worker being preferred over a part-time one. Women lose opportunities because positions — particularly leadership roles — are only available on a full-time basis at the point of recruitment, and too often jobs are not able to be negotiated to be part-time or more flexible. How much are we missing out on quality staff by not tapping into the talent pool of working mums in our profession?

The status quo of preferencing full-time labour is inherently discriminating against women and mothers who are three times more likely to need part-time work to accommodate caring for children.22 For the full and equal participation of women in the workforce, there needs to be greater flexibility for both genders.

The case for flexible work

Australian and international research shows that flexible work promotes both men and women’s workforce participation, employee satisfaction and productivity. The Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (AWGEA) identified six actions for making work more flexible post COVID-19.23 These actions are summarised below.

  1. Make all roles ‘flex’
  2. Trust your people
  3. Role model flexibility
  4. Communicate effectively
  5. Acknowledge the adjustment
  6. Log off and check out at home and in the office

COVID-19 has proven we can work differently. Not only that, working in a hospital setting that is operating 24/7, where timely medicine supply and best possible medication histories within 24 hours are an important part of what we do, the only barrier to greater flexibility for pharmacists in hospitals, is our own self-limiting notions.

There are a range of strategies that can be deployed to make work more flexible. Drawing on Flexibility Diagnostic Tools provided by the AWGEA,24 Table 1 outlines some of the potential ways to introduce more flexibilty to the workplace.

Ways of working flexibly

Part-time work for ALL positions

A regular pattern of work that is less than fulltime hours.

Flexible hours of work

Staff choose their start and finish times because 8:30–5pm with a commute tacked on either end is not conducive to raising children.

Remote working

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen pharmacists prove that working from locations other than the ward is possible. All pharmacists within our department have remote access and can complete tasks including medication history taking, medication chart review, verifying medication orders, and dispensing and printing labels to the dispensary — all from a remote location like home. The isolation felt during COVID-19 lockdowns suggests remote working should be shared with time spent in the workplace and not done exclusively on a full-time basis.


Time spent working overtime or additional shifts can be compensated for time off for example, working a weekend shift to get time off during the week for an appointment.


A full-time job role is divided into multiple job roles to be undertaken by two or more employees. Our pharmacy department has multiple examples of this including Director Wyong Hospital position, Procurement Manager, Drug Burden Index Stewardship pharmacist position, and Quality Use of Medicines position.

Compressed working weeks

For example, a 40-hour week compressed into four 10-hour days. This model could help deliver extended hours of service and reduce on-call workload.

Shorter workdays e.g., 0.8 FTE spread over five days. 

This enhances the number of hours someone can work whilst accommodating other responsibilities like school pick up and after-school activities.

Flexible careers

Where staff can enter, exit and re-enter employment with the same organisation, or to increase or decrease workload or career pace to suit different life stages. This may be particularly relevant for employees transitioning to retirement. It can also include employees who are able to take a ‘gap year’ or secondment elsewhere and return to work for the same employer afterwards. A great way to retain talent.

Other choices

Other options about when, where, and how work is done, e.g., having autonomy to decide when to take breaks during the working day.

Strategies to improve flexibility in the workplace

Taking action

In response to the audit conducted last year, our department acted and has given all staff the opportunity to review their hours of work. So far, five members have taken up this offer and reduced from full-time to part-time, including two male employees. Several part-time women increased their hours as more childcare became available. All positions, including senior roles, are being considered part-time with the opportunity to job-share, and what was a predominately male leadership team, has evolved to a predominately part-time female composition, a closer reflection of the make-up of our department. Added to this, we are embarking on drafting a local flexible work policy that is in the early stages of consultation.

In a flexible work readiness survey,25 sent to all members of our department, more than half of respondents answered that they would like to work some hours from home, 85% said they would prefer to choose their start and finish times, and a large majority, 63%, reported that they would prefer to work compressed work weeks. Overwhelmingly, 90% either supported or strongly supported adopting greater flexible work arrangements and felt our department should have its own flexible work policy. We are tracking changes and hope to show some solid data on what kinds of positive impacts this has on workplace engagement, retention, and productivity in the future. And of course, calculate this year’s GPG figure.

In the words of Julie Bishop, former federal minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, and spokesperson for Women in Progress, “[t]he evidence is in — no nation (or Pharmacy department) is going to realise or reach its full potential until it fully engages with and harnesses the talents and skills and ideas and inspiration of the 51% of the population that’s female”.26

But at the current trajectory, neither our daughters, nor the next five generations after them will see the gender gap close. The COVID pandemic added another 36 years to the GPG, making the expected time for economic equality 136 years away.27 Recall at the beginning of this article, last year’s GPG figure did not change from the year before.

Where to from here?

I challenge SHPA to recognise flexible work policy as a new frontier of hospital pharmacy, and for all pharmacy departments within the public sector to conduct their own GPG audit and flexibility readiness assessment using the tools from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.24 Volunteer reporting was extended to the Commonwealth public sector as a pilot just last year and state governments have also agreed in principle to start reporting their GPG public sector stats over the coming years. Let’s not wait for government legislation and policy to force our hand.

Because when we get to the heart of it all — yes flexibility is about financial equality, but it’s also about what we value. Our families. It’s about our time. The time we need to invest in happy relationships at home, the time that’s required to raise healthy, emotionally intelligent children, and the time required for us to lead healthy lives. All of us. Equally. When our physical, mental, and emotional well-being is prioritised, that is when we are at our best for ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues, and our patients. That’s when we can think in abstract and creative ways, that’s when we can hold our best conversations with people, manage conflict, and problem solve. It’s critical for being the best versions of ourselves.  

This International Women’s Day — share the message of the GPG, start the workplace discussions and don’t settle for that tired old meme — instead of having it all, it’s time to share it all.


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12. Women in Super (WIS). The Facts About Women and Super.  WIS; 2022. Available from <>. Accessed 24/2/23.

13. Australian Human Rights Commission. Older women’s risk of homelessness: Background paper. Exploring a growing problem. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission; 2019.

14. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Final report: Inquiry into homlessness in Australia. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2021.

15. Henriques-Gomes L. A third of single mothers in financial hardship due to welfare policies, analysis finds. The Guardian. 18 October 2022. Available from <>. Accessed 24/2/23.

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20. Professionals Australia. Women staying in the STEM workforce: An economic imperative for Australia. Women in the STEM professions report. Melbourne: Professionals Australia; 2021.

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23. Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Flexible work post-COVID [updated 8 December 2021]. Commonwealth of Australia; 2021. Available from <>. Accessed 24/2/23.

24. Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Flexibility Diagnostic Tools [updated 11 March 2019]. Commonwealth of Australia; 2019. Available from <> . Accessed 24/2/23.

25. Woods K. Gosford Hospital Flexible Work Arrangements Survey 2023. Unpublished.

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