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Gender pay gap: Have Catholic organisations forgotten St John Paul II’s letter to women?

Gender pay gap

Underpaid: I know a number of talented, highly-skilled, generous and competent women who are often underpaid or not paid for their roles in Catholic-based organisations.

RECENTLY I became aware of a woman with two decades of experience at a senior level in industry, who regularly volunteers for a Catholic-based organisation, and has helped raise more than $50,000 for them. 

At a networking event the organisation’s chairman jumped tables to say he had “a great opportunity” for her. 

This “great opportunity” turned out to be working two to four days a week for free with a number of responsibilities in a graduate-level position. 

It is hoped this “oversight” was an unconscious bias, rather than disingenuous.

In 1995 St John Paul II wrote on the gift of the feminine genius and the need for Church to uphold the dignity, role and rights of women. 

Practical aspects of these writings appear to have been lost in the day-to-day operations of some Catholic-based organisations. 

Skilled women are not being paid the same as their male counterparts.  

As a Church we need to ask ourselves is the pay rate or volunteer expectation of females the same as a male? 

If the answer is “no”, is this okay from a moral perspective?  

I know a number of talented, highly-skilled, generous and competent women who are often underpaid or not paid for their roles in Catholic-based organisations. 

These incidences are not to be confused with the time they consciously choose to volunteer. 

The issue of wage inequity is not limited to the Catholic Church or her organisations. 

In Australia, the wage-gap between male and female is 16.2 per cent. 

My hope is that our Church, which professes the dignity of women, would take a lead, practising what it is called to preach – rather than purporting society’s norm. 

This is an uncomfortable conversation. 

I’ve never heard a sermon addressing the dignity of woman and the gender wage gap. 

But so often we hear of the need to love our neighbour. 

Loving our neighbour means treating them with dignity and respect, not using them. 

Church teachings aren’t big on utilitarianism (use) and that is one of the reasons I love her.

Times have changed. 

Most women do not live explicitly off their husband’s wage. 

To the females who can and are happy living on their husband’s wage that is a blessing. 

Many women I know do not have this option: mortgages and societal constructs don’t allow for this. 

Women do not pay a lower rate for mortgages or tyres because they are female. 

Yet, somehow it is okay, or at least accepted, that a female worker be paid a lower rate. 

Not receiving a fair wage, be it for full-time, part-time, casual or contract work, is unjust.

I commend some Catholic-based organisations for taking a step towards leadership in this area, particularly around domestic violence leave. 

It is acknowledged that many not-for-profits are being asked to do more with less and resources are stretched. 

However, not paying women a fair wage is not an acceptable or moral solution. 

God’s economy cannot bless unjust bias – conscious or unconscious.

On that note, here are some changes I would like to see addressing the gender wage gap:

  • Authentic discussions between senior Church-religious leaders regarding their policies and day-to-day practices on full-time, part-time and contract pay, as well as volunteering and unpaid work
  • Monitoring gender ratios for recruitment, promotion and leadership 
  • Effective planning to improve disproportionate gender ratios
  • Training on unconscious gender bias. One common example of this at board level is when positions become vacant many directors unconsciously assuming a male will fill the position
  • Women developing better skills to negotiate a fair wage
  • Dignity and respect for all – males and females.

By Clare Burns

Clare BurnsClare Burns is a Brisbane Catholic businesswoman. She has a Masters in Business Administration and is completing a doctorate at a Brisbane university.  

Written by: Guest Contributor

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