People & Human Resources

Major career study shows young Australian women are missing in debate about future of work

Tarla Lambert /

“We are talking more about robots than we are about women in the future of work debate”.

These were the words of Professor Rae Cooper, co-author of the landmark research Women and the Future of Work, released by the University of Sydney this week.

A team of researchers from the university’s Women, Work & Leadership Research Group, surveyed more than 2000 working women aged 16 to 40, representative of the workforce nationally. Questions posed looked at the expectations and aspirations of young women in their careers, contrasted against current workforce realities.

The key take-outs were startling.

One finding showed young women often felt ‘disrespected’ by senior colleagues and supervisors because of their gender, regardless of their occupation or sector.

Ten percent of respondents said they were currently experiencing sexual harassment in their workplace, with certain groups reporting even higher rates of harassment.

Correlating with the recent Red Zone Report into university colleges, 14% of studying women said they’d recently experienced sexual harassment.

Women living with a disability were also more likely to suffer (18%), as well as women born in Asia or those who were culturally and linguistically diverse (16%).

The study similarly found that young women failed to sufficiently grasp the threat of future work circumstances because of the way it’s conveyed in public discourse.

“Our national debate about the future of work is too often a hyper-masculinised, metallic version of work,” Professor Cooper said.

“Almost two-thirds of the women we surveyed said they didn’t fear robots coming for their jobs in the future,” she said. But this perception is at odds with recent research predicting otherwise.

“For young women, their picture of the future workforce is quite different: they see themselves balancing family and work commitments, and having long, meaningful careers. For this to be a reality, we need mutually beneficial flexibility in all workplaces,” says Cooper.

However, this is far from reality for many young women right now.

Indeed, 90% of those surveyed recognised access to flexibility as important, but only 16% strongly agreed that they had access to the flexibility they required.

Respondents also felt that their financial positions hindered their opportunities for up-skilling. The majority agreed that developing the right skills and qualifications was important for success at work (92%), however, only 40% said they could access affordable training.

Dr Elizabeth Hill, co-author of the report, said that while women remained optimistic about their future careers, “they find themselves caught in gaps between what they need and what the workforce offers”.

“There are significant gaps in job security, respect, access to flexibility and training,” she said.

Hill believes that government action is urgently required for the situation to change.

“Public policy settings, while improving, remain inadequate,” she said.

“Projected growth in feminised, low-paid jobs in health care and social assistance suggests an urgent need for government action to ensure these jobs meet the criteria of decent work.

“Current trends toward fragmentation and the contracting out of employment are undermining many of the criteria of decent work, making this a pressing policy issue for gender equality in the future of work.

“We are urgently calling on the government to facilitate and implement a public policy framework that supports young women’s career aspirations,” she said.

As well as this, organisations must commit to addressing the issue independently and head-on.

“Employers need to commit and act to create workplaces where women are respected and valued for their expertise,” said Cooper.

“There will be more women than robots in the future of work. It’s time that households, government, businesses and employers listen to them.”

The full report is available here.

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

NOW READ: We need to shake up how we define flexible work

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Tarla Lambert

Tarla Lambert is the publisher for Women's Agenda. She's a politics junkie, content marketing specialist, wine drinker, rugby league watcher and fierce advocate for equality.

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  • Rohan Baker

    “One finding showed young women often felt ‘disrespected’ by senior colleagues and supervisors because of their gender”

    Oh, so they felt that but there’s no evidence that this was ACTUALLY the case or the numbers involved. Heresay only.

    “they find themselves caught in gaps between what they need and what the workforce offers”.

    So if company A offers a job with certain requirements as you know, the company needs to make money and a profit to survive, and a woman applies, that the company is being nasty if it doesn’t take their particular needs into account? Seriously. Hello wage gap!