There’s no doubt in my mind that Australian women are progressing from an economic standpoint.
The gains are in the statistics and the opportunities are increasing. I’m feeling the vibe, but are all women?
The timing is right for progress in that there are over three million women in full-time work and about double that in part-time jobs.
More women are studying courses that align with higher paying careers and corporate Australia is increasingly talking about the need to embrace gender diversity on boards.
But the biggest challenge that I see after working on the Financy Women’s Index is not so much that overall progress is slow, but there is still this lingering debate about whether the economic progress of women is needed at all.
Let’s drag the elephant out of the room on this one. This is a massive reason why progress is slow.
The latest Financy Women’s Index found that in the financial year to June 30, the economic progress of women actually improved. This is a good thing.
The lndex recovered by 0.3 percentage points to 111 points in the three months to June, from 110.7 points in March.
But what it also found was that at the start of this year, progress slipped backwards, hurt by less women occupying top ASX 20 board positions and a fall in jobs growth and the participation rate.
The June result remains 2 percentage points lower than the revised 113 point score achieved in the December quarter – when the Women’s Index hit a record high.
So it seems very much to me that we are living in a country where as many women and men could attest, we have a one step forward, two step back march on women’s economic progress.
As Connie McKeage Managing Director of fintech company OneVue, recently said to me, there’s too much gender debate and not enough action to address the economic disadvantages that women face.
“It concerns me that we are still not making the progress we need to be making and until we can have objective discussions and debates around the real corporate issues without turning all debates in gender specific matters we never will.
She then added that the financial services industry could be playing a much bigger role in supporting the economic progress of women.
“It’s time the industry stood up against allowing irrelevant topics from gaining traction, such as how much money a female director spending on hair and make-up to ever gain traction. This impacts all women and our financial wellbeing,” she said.
Philip Kewin, CEO of the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) said the latest Financy Women’s Index results indicate that progress towards creating positive and meaningful cultural change in the financial wellbeing of women in Australia is happening slowly.
But it was … “disappointing to see that, at 26.1 per cent, the financial and insurance services industry has the highest pay disparity of all industries,” he added.
Indeed it’s not a good look when as an industry it’s trying to appeal to more women in light of the fact that in the coming decades women are apparently set to inherit the bulk of intergenerational wealth.
But as many people will remind me, the gender wage disparity is debatable. To which I like to say; “except when it is really not.”
Yes there are many ways you can explain away the reasons for the national gender pay gap being at 15.3 per cent, worst than it was back in 2006, and the superannuation gender gap at 30 per cent.
But none of them are reason enough to do very little, particularly when there is so much compelling evidence that shows the economic and social benefits of women playing a greater role in the paid economy, and being supported to do so.
According to KPMG’s recent, Ending workforce discrimination against women, halving the gender pay gap in Australia and reducing entrenched discrimination against women in the workforce could result in a massive payoff to society valued at $60 billion in GDP by 2038.
The KPMG report also uses economic modelling to show that taking focused steps to increase female job participation rates from where they currently stand could deliver a $140 billion lift in living standards in 20 years’ time.
So what needs to be done to further enhance the financial progress of women?
Here’s some thoughts:
- More affordable and accessible childcare support for parents, to help women in particular return to the paid work after kids, superannuation also needs to be paid while on paternity leave, which more men should be supported by business to take.
- As well as improved personal finance education and broader career-awareness and development education for women of all ages, particularly young women in the secondary school system.
- And finally we need to breakdown many of these social gender stereotypes which results in debate overkill on social media, and in the real world have many women still hoping for Prince Charming to save the day, while many men feel stuck or defined by being in the primary breadwinners basket.