In what is believed to be an Australian first, female staff at Rice Warner Actuaries will be paid a higher rate of superannuation than their male colleagues, a move the company says will stem the burgeoning gap in retirement savings.
After consultation with the Australian Human Rights Commission, Rice Warner will on Wednesday launch measures to help its female staff retire with bigger nest-eggs - including by paying them an extra 2 per cent superannuation, granting 18 weeks' parental leave at full pay, and paying full super during parental leave, including unpaid leave, for up to 12 months.
The Human Rights Commission has examined the plan and considers it a "special measure" designed to redress gender inequality, and therefore allowed under the Sex Discrimination Act.
It follows warnings by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick and others that many women will face a drastic shortfall in savings in their later years.
Australian women live longer than men but retire, on average, with substantially less superannuation - due to their smaller average pay packets and years spent out of the workforce or in part-time work raising children. According to Rice Warner, today's 65-year-old women leave work with about $40,000 less than men of the same age, while the super balances of women aged between 40 and 44 are already, on average, $28,400 smaller than those of men in the same age group.
The total gap between the super balances of men and women stands at $383 billion.
"It's one of the reasons women are more likely to live in poverty in their twilight years, because of the gap in retirement savings," Ms Broderick told BusinessDay. "One of the largest contributions is women's unpaid caring work."
Ms Broderick said that "workplace mechanisms" such as Rice Warner's were "terrific" - but systemic reform was needed to boost women's retirement savings.
The package launched by Rice Warner, which has 35 employees, 11 of them women, is believed to be the first such action by an Australian employer.
Melissa Fuller, Rice Warner's deputy chief executive, said it had been welcomed by all staff, including the men.
"They are all supportive and understand the aim behind the initiative," she said.
"Rice Warner does a lot of research in this area. The numbers are quite frightening. It just made sense to take some action to help our own female employees.
"This is right for our business. We are not saying that everyone should go out and do this but if we can increase awareness we think that would be a positive."
Ms Fuller said the extra cost of the super payments would be negligible. "We believe the benefits will outweigh the cost."
Rice Warner's move was welcomed by the Australian Institute of Super Trustees and networking and advocacy group Women in Super. "We are applauding any businesses that recognise and seek to address this issue for their female staff," said Cate Wood, institute president and chairwoman of Women in Super.