Financial outcomes for women have improved nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic but Generation Z is at risk of being left behind, the latest Financy Women’s Index (FWX) shows.
The Index rose 2% to 73.6 points in the September quarter from 72.2 points in June and is up 6% on its September 2019 result.
The latest result, the headline results are here, was helped by a closing of key gender gaps in women on boards, employment, and the underemployment rate.
However, experts warn that it’s a cautionary tale of women’s economic progress.
“The rise in this quarter’s results were predominantly driven by an improvement in the underemployment sub-index, up 10% quarter-on-quarter however female underemployment weakened in the September quarter, rising to 10.2% in September (compared to 9.2% in June),” said Rhiannon Yetsenga, Economist Deloitte Access Economics.
During the September quarter women suffered a 2.8% drop in the number of monthly hours worked but men saw a bigger 3.2% fall as they bore the brunt of lockdown-related job cuts in the September quarter. This produced a 0.3% improvement in the FWX Employment Sub-Index.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Detailed Labour Force data shows that of the 19 key industries, female employment declined in only five sectors, but male employment fell across all of them.
“Women’s progress must come from genuine improvements in equality against a backdrop of greater well-being for both men and women,” said Nicki Hutley, independent social impact economist. Policy makers must look to restore prosperity for all, while embedding policies that genuinely address gender equity.”
Full-time employment numbers of women under 25 years continue to lag both genders and all age groups and were down 9% in the September quarter and were 10% lower (in full and part-time) on September 2019 figures.
The biggest risk moving forward is that women, particularly those aged under 25 years, emerge from the pandemic in a far worse financial position than when it began.
As it stands, there are increased structural barriers that prevent many women from participating in paid work to their desired capacity and these affect the immediacy at which a person can take advantage of opportunities.
Effie Zahos independent director InvestSMART notes that whilst there is plenty of work to be done, progress for women has “a wide impact” on the economy.
“The Federal Government’s Women’s Budget Statement 2021-221 notes that when women are economically secure, everyone benefits – from individuals and families to the business community and the broader economy,” said Ms Zahos.
In some bright news, women in leadership continue to make progress. The number of women on ASX 200 boards rose to a fresh high of 34% in September, before dipping slightly in more recent figures.
Overall, it will now take 29.5 years for equality in employment, down from 29.8 years, 13.7 years for equality in underemployment, down from 16.1 years and 6.7 years of sustained progress at current rates to reach 50/50 gender diversity on
ASX 200 boards.
“The presence of strong, successful women in leadership roles will help to encourage each new generation of girls to aim for the stars, smashing gender barriers and stereotypes along the way,” said Ms Hutley.
As we last updated the gender pay gap data in the June FWX report, it remains at 21.3 years for equality to be achieved in average wages. The remaining areas of the Index will be updated in the December report and currently stand at 39.8 years to close the superannuation gender gap and 101 years to close the unpaid work gender gap.
Dr Shane Oliver, Chief Economist AMP Capital said two things have become clear from the pandemic.
“First, pandemic or not we still have a long way to go to reach financial equality for women.
“And second the revolution in flexible working made possible by technology but finally unleashed by the pandemic has provided a pathway forward to more rapidly address the financial gender gap.
“The key is for governments to help facilitate it and for employers and women to embrace it,” said Dr Oliver.