Women in workforce still at a disadvantage, new COAG Reform Council report finds

Childcare costs act as a disincentive for women to work full-time, and contribute to a gap in retirement savings worth about $207,000 on average between women and men earning the average wage.

Costs of childcare have increased between 2010 and 2012, with childcare costs accounting for between 8.2% and 9.4% of disposable income, depending on gross family incomes, according the Council of Australian Governments’ Reform Council report, Tracking Equity: Comparing Outcomes for Women and Girls Across Australia, released yesterday in Melbourne.

At the launch of the report, Professor Deborah Brennan from the University of New South Wales said in the Canadian province of Quebec the local government introduced $5-a-day childcare which was followed by an increase in workforce participation, a drop in welfare payments and in child poverty.

The report is the first the COAG Reform Council has released on gender equity and states women under 30 years old tend to have higher qualifications than men of the same age.

Women under 30 are unique as a group, as the proportion of women with a higher qualification as compared to men in the same age group begins to drop off in women aged 30 to 64, going from a 2.1% gap in younger women to a 19.2% gap in older women.

At a presentation of the results held yesterday in Melbourne, Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley said an indicator of future employment opportunities was whether or not women studied maths in high school.

“What is the dominant indicator of future employment incomes?” he said. “The answer is maths.”

But he said “the thing that matters most” was “how much they get to take home after paying tax, any benefits, and after paying for childcare”.

Women filled 3% of top-ranking chair and chief executive positions at ASX 500 companies, the report states, meaning only 12 women held the role of chief executive at the top companies.

Female directors on boards were better represented, at 9.2% or 292 positions. Female executives were also better represented at 9.2% of positions at ASX 500 companies, but these roles can be broken down into line or support roles, where line roles are directly responsible for profit and loss or client services, and support roles for the rest.

Of the female executives, about 54% held line roles and 45.8% held support roles. In comparison to men, who were mainly in line roles (83.9%), the report states, “which more closely reflects the balance of actual positions available”.

COAG Reform Council chairman John Brumby said there was a bias against choosing women for roles.

“When you’ve got women who are at least as well if not better qualified, they are just not getting through to that line management and then senior management roles. I think you have to explain some of that attitudinally. Is there a level playing field in which all people are considered on their merits, and I think in many businesses that is not the case,” he said.


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