People & Human Resources

Economic importance of women in the workplace

Fi Bendall /

Considerable strides have been in recent years toward gender equality in the Australian workplace, spurred not only by a societal conception of fairness, but also in recognition of the contribution of women to the bottom line of companies and the economic benefit to the country.

Some of the push for increasing the number of female employees in a company is coming internally from the males themselves as they realise these important economic and managerial benefits. This is being spurred by the younger employees who don’t have the same preconceived gender notions of their older counterparts, and an across-the-board realization that increasing female participation doesn’t pose a threat to their own positions, but can instead be of benefit.

There are many reasons for the positive economic impacts projected by these reports. Starting from the bottom up with the impact on companies, there are numerous gains to be made from gender equality in the workplace.

Gender equality tends to attract better talent. A male-dominated workplace is generally not as attractive to women, and women are generally more highly educated than their male counterparts. A perceived lack of equality puts that company at risk of missing out on a large pool of talent. Beyond skills and talent, different perspectives that come along with that diversity — and it’s not just about a woman’s perspective, but views sourced from the various cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds from which they come.

This increase in better management and broader perspectives contribute to greater profitability, and this turns the wheels of the national economy.

A 2012 report from the Grattan Institute, Game-changers: Economic Reform Priorities for Australia, estimated that increasing female workforce participation by around 6% (bringing it roughly in line with Canada) would increase the size of the Australian economy by about $25 billion per year. It goes on to state that “… removing disincentives for women to enter the paid workforce would increase the size of the Australian economy …” (By disincentives, they are referring primarily to childcare and the obstacle of full-time employment, as most unemployed women or part-time female workers have children.)

Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case For Increasing Female Participation compiled by Goldman Sachs JB Were, states that there would be massive positive benefits worldwide in equalising the ratio of men to women in the workplace. In Australia alone, the report estimates that it would boost our GDP by 11%.

For a start, women make up more than 57% of enrolled tertiary students. They represent in greater numbers across most areas of study except for business – and finance-specific courses. The underemployment of female university-honed skills is a huge waste of national resource.

National economic bonuses are also realised in the flow-on effects from greater gender equality in the workforce, as it assists in addressing the problem of pension sustainability by growing the size of the pool contributing to it. This helps solve the issue of a growing dependency ratio from more people living longer and providing greater financial security in retirement for the aging population. It also lifts household savings rates and, most significantly, increases taxes received by the government by providing a larger tax base – which includes Medicare contributions.

Realising a higher level of female participation would also have massive benefits to many sectors of the economy that are not immediately obvious. For example, Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1997 put the total value of unpaid household work at $237 billion, and estimated that women did 65% of it. Even if only a portion of that 65% were to be paid, it stills represents a substantial shot in the arm to the economy.

So what we have is a strong impetus to see more women employed in the workplace. Aside from the economic sense it makes, it is just plain common sense, and the hallmark of a fairer, more rational society. And as a society, we need to push harder for more incentives to entice women into work, such as reducing the cost of child care and treating it as a tax deduction. A few small changes might be all that is needed to realise the potential of this hidden resource and set the nation on the right track to grow and prosper.

Fi Bendall is the managing director of Bendalls Group, a team of highly trained digital specialists, i-media subject matter experts and developers.

 

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Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

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