There’s more work to be done in promoting equality for women in business, but progress in key areas has buoyed advocates, who say economic equality could be achieved in the next decade.
Small businesses are now being called on to do more to promote the role of women in their own workplaces following a raft of initiatives being undertaken by larger firms in recent years.
The latest edition of the Finance Women’s Index, a project which tracks the economic progress of Australian women, has recorded a positive result over the last 12 months.
More women are in full-time work across the economy and average wage disparity between men and women has hit a 20-year low, the research has found.
But the project’s founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman says Australia is still about 37.5% short of a scenario that would be considered real economic equality for women in business.
She’s calling on small business owners to do more to move the needle on the issue, encouraged by findings that women are now starting businesses at a faster rate than men.
“We need to see small businesses in general thinking about the performance benefits of diversity and inclusion,” she tells SmartCompany.
“It’s absolutely critical that we have a grassroots swell of progress when it comes to gender diversity.”
The September quarter index, published on Wednesday, found there are signs headline issues for the movement, such as the superannuation gap between men and women, are beginning to improve.
The super gap between men and women fell to 28% at the end of the 2018 financial year, down from 30% in 2017.
Meanwhile, improved wages and job outcomes have helped the national gender pay gap fall to 14.6% in May, down from 15.2% in November last year.
While the index has tracked a steady toward an improvement in economic gender equality, albeit below expectation, Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris warns against complacency.
“I’m not happy with where it is, not for myself, my kids or any other women,” she tells SmartCompany.
“The last bit is always going to be the most difficult … it’s important to recognise that the worst gap is going to be for women of colour, or women with disabilities.”
Morris believes small and medium-sized businesses have a crucial role to play in furthering equality for women in business.
“There’s still a really fundamental problem that careers that are dominated by women are paid a lot less, child care work or teaching,” she says.
“There’s kind of a deeper level of work that needs to happen around why we don’t value what women do.”
Morris expressed support for a recently announced Australian Labor Party policy which would see parents paid superannuation while on parental leave.
But she believes it will ultimately be up to women to keep the movement for economic equality between men and women moving, particularly in a small business context.
“We could spend a generation trying to bust through male-dominated power structures, or we could just go build our own,” she says.
“If women can be the ones making decisions and deciding how their companies work then that’s how things actually really change.”