Report Card: Gender Pay Gap is Aussie Forests’ Wake-Up Call!

Just days from International Women's Day, a new report from the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) shines a light on Australia's $24 billion timber industry.

Tue 05 Mar 24


You’d have to be in a cave not to be aware that the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) published last week, which outlined the gender pay gap in Australia for companies with over 100 employees and, for the first time, with access to review specific company results in the annual survey.

Mainstream media were quick to focus on the recalcitrant companies who had gender pay gaps of 30% plus and did not pay so much attention to those companies doing it well. What is the gender pay gap, though, and how does our industry compare to the average and other “competing” sectors?

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency is an Australian Government statutory agency created by the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012

Transparency and accountability are critical for driving change.

By shining a light on gender pay gaps at an employer level, we are arming individuals and organisations with the evidence they need to take meaningful action to accelerate closing the gender pay gap in Australian workplaces.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency published the findings during a special Livestream last week – footage courtesy of @WGEAgencyAus.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has published the base salary and total remuneration and the median gender pay gaps for private sector employers with 100 or more employees in Australia.

The results show that:

  • 30% of employers have a median gender pay gap between the target range of -5% and +5%.
  • 62% of median employer gender pay gaps are over 5% and in favour of men.
  • The rest (8%) are less than -5% and in favour of women.
  • Across all employers, 50% have a gender pay gap of over G.1%.

“It is encouraging to see that gender pay gaps for almost one-third of employers are close to gender parity within their workforce,” according to WGEA CEO Mary Wooldridge, who said, “All employers should be aiming for a gender pay gap within +/-5%.”

“This range allows for normal business fluctuations and employee movements while signifying that an employer focuses on identifying and addressing inequalities and is taking action to ensure gender equality throughout an organisation.” 

There is significant variation in the gender pay gap across different industries, ranging from the Construction Industry, where the mid-point employer gender pay gap is 31.8%, to the Accommodation and Food Services Industry, with a mid-point employer gender pay gap of 1.9%. 

What is the Gender Pay Gap?

The gender pay gap measures how we value the contribution of men and women in the workforce. Expressed as a percentage or a dollar figure, it shows the difference between women’s and men’s earnings. Closing the gender pay gap is essential for Australia’s economic future and reflects our aspiration to be an equal and fair society for all.

The gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay. Equal pay is where women and men are paid the same for performing the same role or different work of equal or comparable value.

In Australia, this has been a legal requirement since 1963!

Gender pay gaps are not a comparison of like roles. Instead, they show the difference between the average or median pay of women and men across organisations, industries and the workforce as a whole.

So, what do our industry results look like? The industry and sub-sector categories aren’t explicit for all aspects of our industry, but the relevant divisions include:

  • Industry Division – Agricultural, Forestry & Fishery; Subdivision – Forestry & Logging
  • Industry Division – Manufacturing; Subdivision – Wood Products Manufacturing

The purpose of this article is to highlight the opportunities for improvement as a collective industry and for industry sectors. Individual company results can be reviewed, but that’s up to individual companies, in my opinion. Hopefully, we’re curious about who’s doing the best in our sector and competing sectors and what the range of gaps is in our industry divisions.

Here, we’ll look at the relevant division and subdivision results and compare them with the average results for that division.

image 13

Note that for some of the results, the survey was taken in 2022-23 before new domestic violence legislation and the requirements of companies in this area.

The comparisons below use the median total remuneration gap – a median gender pay gap is the difference between the median of what men are paid and the median of what women are paid, expressed as a percentage of the median man’s earnings.

  • All companies – 19%
  • Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Division – 10.3%
  • Forestry & Logging Subdivision – 10.2%
  • Manufacturing Division – 18.1%
  • Wood Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 9.2%
  • Primary Metal & Metal Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 13.6%

So, overall, our industry should be pleased with the above results, but let’s not get complacent – there’s still a gap!

Some of the pay gap differences have been explained by gender differences in access to overtime and bonuses, as well as the representation of senior higher-paid women in the ranks of various companies; flexible work arrangements are also an important enabler for gender diversity improvement (in fact, for all types of diversity improvement in the workplace).

So, let’s take a closer look at some of this.

 What is the gender composition at the Upper Quartile pay level?

  • All companies – 35% female
  • Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries Division – 23% female
  • Forestry & Logging Subdivision – 17% female
  • Manufacturing Division – 20% female
  • Wood Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 11% female
  • Primary Metal & Metal Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 14% female

Clearly, we need more women at the senior ranks in our industry companies – at the decision-making tables. 

And it’s not about quotas – no woman wants to be there to tick a target box. Given the various functional senior management roles now available in our industry, especially in larger companies, sufficient talent pools exist to have gender diversity in our recruitment and selection processes.

Senior and middle management women researching joining our industry will look at results such as the WGEA annual pay gap reports and specifically research individual company results and compare.

Here’s a snapshot of some aspects of workforce composition by employment status and occupation:

Note that in no occupation category for any of the divisions or subdivisions above did the male composition working part-time exceed 2%.

It’s encouraging to see the higher percentage of females in the pipeline (that is, at the Exec/GM level compared to all managers) for our specific subdivisions. However, it’s still nowhere near having a balanced pipeline in terms of internal promotion and career development/ advancement to the CEO level for greater participation.

In terms of flexibility, the greatest opportunities for all companies based on flexible work types offered are in the areas of Compressed Work Weeks, Job Sharing and Purchased Leave.

image 10
The graph has been supplied by Christine Briggs and taken from the ‘Gender Pay Gap’ report under Creative Commons.

How does that compare to our specific industry subdivisions?

Flexible working for Forestry s Logging:

image 11
The graph has been supplied by Christine Briggs and taken from the ‘Gender Pay Gap’ report under Creative Commons.

Flexible working for Timber Products Manufacturing:

image 12
The graph has been supplied by Christine Briggs and taken from the ‘Gender Pay Gap’ report under Creative Commons.

Employee Consultation on gender equality is crucial to improving the balance and gaps – how and who is consulted matters.

Percentage of employers who consulted employees on gender equality in the workplace:

  • All companies – 47%
  • Agriculture, Forest & Fisheries Division – 47%
  • Forestry & Logging Subdivision – 57%
  • Manufacturing Division – 43%
  • Timber Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 35%
  • Primary Metal & Metal Products Manufacturing Subdivision – 42%

What seems obvious is that consultation results for Women Only will be more informative than just consulting with all employees, especially in our industry sectors where the majority are male (82% for Timber Products Manufacturing; 79% for Forestry & Logging).

Finally, some would say it starts at the very top, so how does the profile of gender diversity at the Boards & Governing Bodies level of our industry subdivisions compare with the average and divisions:

 % Female Chairs% Female Members
All Companies19%31%
Agriculture, Forest & Fisheries13%21%
Forestry & Logging11%24%
Timber Products Manufacturing5%16%

14% of the employers in the Forestry & Logging subdivision have a formal policy and/ or strategy to support gender equality in the composition of their governing bodies; only 6% of the employers in the Timber Products Manufacturing subdivision have this.

So, in summary, the report card is now available and aims for transparency and improvement. 

I hope this article piques your curiosity to look up your own company and see how it compares to the subdivision average results outlined here.

More importantly, we need our industry leaders to be curious about how they can lead the change in our industry’s gender diversity and the gender pay gaps for our sectors.

We’re also an industry that still has overall low female participation rates across the board. Where there is participation, more efforts are required to advance and support females’ careers in this industry to ensure that more are sitting at the decision-making tables of our industry in the future.

It’s a war for talent, so let’s collaborate to make our industry attractive to everyone and achieve a better balance. 

My humble advice would be don’t be afraid to have women-only initiatives in your businesses to advance the cause of gender diversity. When you’re successful, it will leverage improvement in all other forms of diversity, too, because it’s about understanding what a minority wants to feel more included and contribute more.

On an industry level, I think we would benefit from the following:

  • Industry-wide women-only consultation – let’s survey women working in our industry about their experiences and thoughts for improvement
  • Industry programs for mentoring – congratulations, Forestry Australia, on initiatives already in this space!
  • Women Leadership programs – research shows that women-only programs are more valuable for women, so let’s not be afraid to focus on the gender imbalance in our senior ranks in our industry

I recently had an industry colleague reach out to me who has spent over 40 years in this industry and doesn’t see gender – he loves supporting those with curiosity, good work ethic and passion for the industry.

However, he reached out to me to ask about what groups exist in the timber industry to support females advancing their careers – and besides the Women in Forestry & Timber network in Queensland, whom I applaud for their networking and fundraising, I couldn’t suggest anything.

He was asking on behalf of a female colleague he is coaching on the job.

 We can do better than this – some of the roadblocks women face in developing their careers in this industry differ from those faced by their male colleagues, so we need some women-focused programs.

With International Women’s Day on Friday, 8th March, I’m happy to read good news stories about the contribution and value of women in our industry. Still, I also want a healthy dissatisfaction about the imbalances and gaps and how to improve.

This year’s UN theme for IWD is Count Her In – Accelerating Gender Equality through Economic Empowerment, so all I can say is “Count Me In”, and I’m happy to give my time to help this improve our wonderful industry.


  • Christine Briggs

    Christine Briggs is a Director / B2B marketing strategist; helping organisations connect their brands & culture for optimal value. The former National Marketing Manager for AKD Softwoods - Australia's largest softwood producer, Ms Briggs was previously General Manager of Marketing and Business Development for Timberlink. A former Director of Forest Wood Products Australia, Ms Briggs is a current board member of both Responsible Wood (Australia's largest forest certification scheme) and the $100m Australian Forest and Wood Innovation (AFWI) research institute - which comprises the University of Tasmania, the University of Melbourne and University of the Sunshine Coast.


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