“Not one single country in the world is on track to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls by 2030 as was set out in Agenda 2030,” says Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and VicePresident of the European Commission.
When I first read this comment on the United Nations website, I was blown away that for all the work that has been done, for all the conversations that have been had – no country is any closer to gender equality.
Is this because of the Coronavirus?… No. All that the pandemic did was make us realise that we have a big problem in women’s financial security compared to men, and when job losses started to mount among men and women to varying degrees, the risk was always that things were going to get worse.
According to the latest Financy Womens Index, which measures the financial progress of Australian women, the timeframe for achieving equality increased to 101 years in the December quarter, from a revised 100 years in the September quarter due to a widening in the gender gap in unpaid work.
The Women’s Index fell by 2.3 points (-3%) to 74 points in the December quarter, reflecting the worst performing quarter since March 2013, as women experienced a slower employment recovery than men.
Here’s some of what’s shocked me most about women’s financial progress over the past 12 months.
- 2020 wiped out at least 20 years of positive momentum for women participating in paid work.
- The gender gap in unpaid work was getting worse even before the Coronavirus began. Overall, women are doing more paid + unpaid compared to men.
- The average woman is needing more money than ever to retire on but is still faced with a significant shortfall compared to men, and this could get worse because of the pandemic.
- The gender pay gap only narrowed in the December quarter because men’s wages went backwards… This is not the progress we want!
And here’s where I see the most opportunities for Australian women:
- Male dominated industries of Transport, Postal and Warehousing and Construction did the most hiring of women in the December quarter. Are we seeing a breaking down of stereotypes? I believe so, although slowly.
- Women accounted for nearly 43% of all new ASX200 board appointments in 2020, which is the best yearly result since record keeping began in 2011. This is fantastic news, and I see no reason why this momentum would stop in the short-term.
- Education is the only indicator where financial related progress has largely stopped as women continue to select pathways that lead to lower future expected earnings, relative to men. Okay so we know this now, so let’s get into schools and start talking about turning this around.
- The gender pay gap largest in Professional, Scientific and Technical Services, Financial and Insurance Services, and Health Care and Social Assistance but smallest in Other Services and Public Administration and Safety. Bit of insight here if you are job hunting!
As a mum of three girls, when I research gender equality I go through stages of being actually depressed to feeling angry and to optimistic. Right now, I’m in a slightly angry/optimistic phase and it’s brought me to the following conclusion:
It’s because of our younger generations that we must not give up in trying to achieve gender financial equality in the short-term, rather what we need is to change our thinking about how it is that we get there.
For too long have we focused on improving the economic security of women once a person experiences financially disadvantage, rather than really educating and preparing them before that event happens.
It’s a bit like the saying; if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. If we don’t focus more on breaking the cycle of gender financial inequality early, through education, skills, opportunities, actions and leadership, then we will continue to fail in our grasp of achieving equality.
Right now Australian women are at risk of seeing their financial progress go backwards because of the Coronavirus and it’s become more challenging to get a reading on the full extent of this, because the pandemic, government stimulus and control measures have caused distortions in key employment and wages statistics.
This could result in a more sudden pressure to react in a responsive way rather than a strategically pre-emptive way.
Hence this may increase the probability of seeing the focus remain on older women approaching retirement with little savings or on Mums who are struggling to participate in paid work because of unsupported unpaid work.
So what can we do? We must encourage mandatory awareness programs in schools that strive to bust stereotypes around financial literacy, financial independence, education, career and unpaid work choices.
Business leaders and governments must also make it easier for the primary carers of children, namely women, to leave and re-enter the workforce as well as normalise the provision of flexible workplaces.
In this Financy Women’s Index™, we have changed our modelling on education and looked specifically at why there are more women than men undertaking formal educational qualifications and why this alone doesn’t translate to success in income and leadership.
The problem is that our choices are not evolving with the times and supporting financial progress.
We need to question how these choices are being made and what they’re influenced by, such as perceptions of workplace flexibility, employer bias and discrimination, gender stereotypes and social and family traditions.
For instance to what extent does the perception of flexibility for families influence the influx of women studying and working in the fields of Education and Health over Information Technology, which is considered the highest paying pathway for women.
At the same time, we as a society need to question why it is that certain female-dominated sectors and roles are so undervalued and underpaid relative to many male-dominated sectors and roles.
The key to changing our futures, is to focus more on future generations, equalise our thinking on gender and seize opportunities such as those learned through COVID in using technology to enable more flexible working.
Once we do this at a national level, we will provide a faster path towards equality and be able to say, that we are on track to achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, at a date not so far away.