A Zero Pay Gap Is the Goal. But What Happens Next?

What happens if we ever get to a zero gender pay gap? If we do hit that milestone, can we declare victory?

The answer is: not really. Reaching anywhere near zero will be a feat, but not the be-all-and-end-all. While a bellwether of how we value women’s economic and corporate contributions, eradicating this discrimination won’t mean instant equality. More hard work is needed not only to achieve pay equality, but create workplaces where women have equal opportunities.

Yes, we are a long way off parity. But it’s worth kick-starting the discussion. Especially when more countries are beginning to push for ambitious targets. Canada, France and Spain are among nations that require in-depth analysis of gendered wage information, and more than half of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries now mandate that private sector companies report their pay gap.

Australia last week unveiled individual compensation gaps for companies with at least 100 employees. As expected, the data showed most still pay women less than men — and in some instances, a lot less. But not much attention was given to that fact that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which compiled the data, has set a target of -5% to +5% for the gender gap. Of the 5,000-plus companies that reported, 30% are already there. Despite the dire predictions that it will take more than 100 years to reach parity, these firms show it can be done.

Very few countries have come close to that, and even if they have, it might be hard to tell given how calculations vary greatly across geographies.1 Australia’s own gender equality agency has the nation’s pay gap at 19%, while the OECD puts it at 9.9%, slightly below the spread of countries under its ambit.

We should start thinking about this as a tool to revamp the working environment so women can thrive. Mary Wooldridge, who heads the agency, says employers will need to keep striving for a “gender equal experience in the workplace,” even if the day comes when men and women are paid the same.