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 firm says is aimed at helping stem the burgeoning gap in retirement savings between men and women.
After consultation with the Australian Human Rights Commission, Rice Warner will launch measures on Wednesday to help its female staff retire with bigger nest eggs - including paying female staff 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 to be a "special measure" aimed at addressing gender inequality, and therefore allowed under the Sex Discrimination Act.
It follows warnings by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, and others that many women will face a drastic shortfall in savings in 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, 65-year-old women leave work with about $40,000 less than males the same age, while the super balances of women aged between 40 and 44 are on average $28,400 smaller than men in the same age group.
"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 said. "One of the largest contributions is women's unpaid caring work."
Ms Broderick said "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 whom are 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 its staff, including the males.
"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," she said.
Rice Warner's package was welcomed by the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and networking and advocacy group Women in Super.