Exclusive: Bosses pay young women less than men in their first job across most professions, with a boys' club bonus branded "unfair'' yesterday by two government watchdogs.

University-educated women still earn less than men from the very start of their careers, damning new data obtained by News Corp Australia reveals.

Dental graduates earn $10,700 more in their first full-time job if they are male.

Female law graduates earn $4700 than less than men - revealing a 7.3 per cent pay bonus for being a bloke.

One leading female lawyer yesterday branded the pay gap a "punch in the guts''.

The federal government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Libby Lyons blasted the unequal pay as "just not fair''.

"Women are handicapped from the minute they leave university,'' she told News Corp Australia.

"If we've got a pay gap when women graduate, then they are trying to win the race from behind at the very start.''

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said yesterday the official data is a "stark reminder of the discrimination that's very much part of our society and our working world''.

"The slippery slope starts very early,'' she said. "(Women) are finishing university and then starting on their first day in a job with a lower salary.

"The gender pay gap is a persistent and incredibly damaging issue that affects women and families and the whole community.''

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. Picture: Kym Smith
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. Picture: Kym Smith

The exclusive new data reveals that female psychologists are earning $3000 less than men with the same degree, in their first full-time job this year.

Among business graduates, male managers earn $3100 - or 6 per cent more than women - fresh from university.

Male architects pocket a $2400 pay premium for their first full-time job, while female scientists earn $3000 less than men with a degree in maths or science.

The federal Education Department's 2020 Graduate Outcomes Survey shows a $1600 gender pay gap, on average, among all graduates who left university last year and began full-time work within four months.

Men earn a median salary of $65,000 while women earn $63,400.

Women are paid more than men in only two fields - engineering ($600 a year, or 0.9 per cent per more) - and social work ($900 or 1.3 per cent more).

Salaries are the same or similar for graduates of medicine, pharmacy, rehabilitation, teaching, information technology and creative arts.

Ms Lyons said the graduate pay data proved that women often earn less than men, even before they take time out for family reasons.

"This pay gap is not just about women's choices,'' she said. "And we can't blame the fact women aren't good negotiators.

"The most significant contributor to the gender pay gap is plain old discrimination.''

She said it was illegal to pay a woman less to do the same job as a man.

"But we know that is still happening,'' she said. "Employers must conduct pay gap audits to ensure they are meeting their legal requirements in terms of equal pay.

"Boards and CEOs must be accountable to ensure organisations are meeting their legal requirements for equal pay.''

Ms Lyons said companies should include more women on interviewing panels to ensure female graduates are given equal treatment to men.

"We need more women in management roles who make decisions about recruitment and pay, so we don't have all men making decisions about what graduates they take,'' she said.

"If you are an organisation with a panel of all white men aged between 35 and 50, they're going to favour those who look and sound like themselves.''

Ms Jenkins, the sexism watchdog for the Australian Human Rights Commission, said gender discrimination in pay can be hard to prove.

"It would breach the law that has prohibited sex discrimination since 1984 in this country,'' she said.

"It is also unlawful to discriminate on the basis of someone's family responsibilities. The laws are there but the enforcement is only when people bring complaints.

"People who do apply for jobs and don't get them usually don't have access to the reasons why they didn't.''

Ms Jenkins said some graduates found it hard to negotiate fair pay because "they need the jobs''.

"A lot of people assume this is about women having children and taking time out. But in the majority of cases at the graduate level there is no intersection between work and family and caring responsibilities.

"Some of the drivers are just plain discrimination and stubborn gender stereotypes about family responsibilities.

"At a graduate level, even recognising that women might be pointed towards roles that are lower paid … the driver is gender discrimination.''

Australian Women Lawyers president Leah Marrone said it was a "punch in the guts'' for female graduates to learn they were being paid less.

"We constantly see examples of people in exactly the same firm being paid differently, even at graduate level,'' she said.

"It's pretty ruthless out there and there's an unconscious bias of assuming women will have babies and leave.''

Ms Marrone said most law firms forced workers to sign confidentiality contracts to keep salaries secret, making it "very hard to negotiate a wage''.

She said she was asked about her "family plans'' during her first job interview for a government agency when she graduated 13 years ago.

"I replied that I was only 23,'' she said. "I definitely didn't say, 'That question's unlawful' because I probably wouldn't have gotten the job if I did.

"(Employers) still do it - they might find different ways of asking, like, "Are you planning on taking an extended period of leave?

"Graduates don't have a lot of negotiating power.''

Ms Marrone said the pay gap could also reflect more women working in lower-paid areas of law, such as Legal Aid and family law.

Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said that discrimination laws "have not removed the gender pay gap''.

"Differences in remuneration arising for work of equal value remain,'' she said.

Ms Wright called for an end to pay secrecy, by removing legal barriers to workers discussing their pay.

"Discrimination is difficult to remove where it is hidden from view,'' she said.

An Australian Dental Association spokeswoman said the data mixed the pay rates for graduates with five-year dental degrees - where half are women - and three-year oral health therapy degrees, where most graduates are women.

"While the starting salaries of these two distinct practitioners groups will be different, there is unlikely to be any variation within a cohort, based on their gender,'' she said.

Small Business Women Australia founder Amanda Rose said companies know about the pay gap.

"However they are often more concerned about the bottom line rather than ensuring a woman is paid the same,'' she said.

"It needs to change at board level with a policy specifying that all people are paid the same for the same work and position.''

Originally published as Shock salaries reveal women paid less than men in first job

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