The financial progress of Australian women appears to be back on track thanks to a female-led job’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still a lot of catch-up to be done when it comes to achieving gender equality.
Unlike past economic downturns, Australian women are helping to drive the recovery with workforce participation at record highs and the fastest rate of improvement in over 40 years in the number of monthly hours worked by any gender in the March quarter.
The Financy Women’s Index rose by 0.7 points to a revised 71.6 points in the March quarter, and is up 1.8 points on March 2020 — the best start to a calendar year since 2018.
When we look at what this means for gender equality in employment, the jobs recovery shaved 4 years off the now 30 year timeframe for achieving that.
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While it’s a step in the right direction, it’s actually reflective of the slowest pace of annual progress since 2018.
The March quarter result has been driven by new data updates across the three sub-index areas: employment, underemployment and leadership. The Financy Women’s Index also captures the latest available data updates on the gender gaps in pay, superannuation, unpaid work and fields of education linked to career earnings.
Employment data shows a record increase in female workforce participation, as well as improvement in the underemployment rate gender gap and a fresh high in women holding ASX 200 board directorships.
The combined result suggests that women are experiencing a somewhat faster employment recovery from the jobs fallout caused by the pandemic than men, helped by a significant rebound in the sectors hardest hit such as the female-dominated Retail Trade and Accommodation and Food Services.
Deloitte Access Economics partner, Simone Cheung, said that sectors with high female representation such as health and social services have also grown significantly over the pandemic. On the other hand, male-dominated industries such as construction have seen a drop in employment.
“The question remains: is this women-led recovery in jobs a correction, or is it a sign of things to come? We will have to wait and see,” she said.
“What we do next will be critical, and will determine whether this momentum is maintained, or whether things reverts to the pre-COVID norm.”
The index also found that younger women and those in the most common age group for entering parenthood are yet to see a full recovery in the full-time employment numbers. It is a trend we are also seeing among younger men.
AMP Capital chief economist, Shane Oliver, said while “it’s excellent news to see the Financy Women’s Index resume its rising trend in the March quarter, in most areas we remain many years and in some cases decades away from achieving gender financial equality.”
The timeframe for achieving total gender equality stands at 101 years, based on the worst performing sub-index (unpaid work) of the Women’s Index.
In terms of other sub-indexes and achieving gender equality in those areas, the Women’s Index estimates it will now take 30 years to achieve equality employment, down from 34 years in March 2020.
The timeframe to achieving gender equality in underemployment remains around 17 years and it is likely to take seven years of sustained progress for complete gender diversity to be achieved on ASX 200 boards.
The gender gap in unpaid work seemed to worsen through the pandemic; however, the crisis has also showed a way forward to help address this problem in a way that is beneficial for both males and females and, at the same time, good for productivity.
“The pandemic has showed that it’s possible to work from home in a more flexible way without negatively impacting productivity,” Oliver said.
“And more working from home should further help boost female workforce participation thereby reducing their unpaid work. At the same time, more men working from home should allow them to more fairly share in household and parental chores.
“The key is to encourage and facilitate the work from home phenomenon so that its benefits can be nurtured rather than just go back to business as usual once the pandemic is behind us,” said Oliver.