Women face 101 year wait for financial gender equality

From
Bianca Hartge-Hazelman

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman

Despite 2020 being a tough year, the financial progress of Australian women is trending in the right direction, but it will still take a century to achieve equality, as systemic issues hamper improvement in the unpaid work gender gap.

The Financy 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.

The timeframe for achieving equality increased to 101 years, from a revised 100 years in the September quarter based on the worst performing sub-index (unpaid work) of the Women’s Index.

“At the current rate of progress, economic equality for women is still a long way away,” says Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, author of the Financy Women’s Index. “The Index shows that we are unlikely to see equality in Australia until the year 2122.

“Without significant change, it’s likely that women will continue to participate in paid work at a reduced capacity to men and this will affect women’s financial security and progress,” says Ms Hartge-Hazelman.

The Index also found that women are more likely than men to select educational pathways that are linked to lower paid industries which can have a profound impact on career earnings and gender pay gaps.

“The Index points to a need to reconsider the value of occupations that are traditionally female-dominated such as health, aged and child care,” notes Simone Cheung, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics.

Speaking on the widening of the gender gap in unpaid work, Roger Wilkins, co-author of the HILDA report, said it “seems likely” COVID would have increased the unpaid work disparity in 2020.

“The increase in child care provided at home brought about by closure of child care centres and learning from home is likely to have been disproportionately borne by women,” says Mr Wilkins.

In annual terms, women’s financial progress is headed in the right direction, and finished the year 1.3 points higher for 2020, compared to 72.7 points in December 2019. The Index peaked at 76.3 points in the September quarter.

A stronger year for the appointment of women to ASX200 board positions, up 6 percentage points to 32.6% and the best improvement in the gender pay gap (13.4%) since June 2018, helped drive the Index higher and cushion the December quarter employment growth shortfall.

The Women’s Index also shows it is expected to take 21 years to achieve equality in the national gender pay gap, 33 years in employment, 18 years in underemployment, 7 years for women on boards and 38 years to close the gender gap in superannuation savings.

“To speed up progress, we need cultural change to recognise the benefits of a more gender diverse workplace and greater female participation in it at all levels,” says Dr Shane Oliver, Chief Economist AMP Capital.

“This starts in the nation’s schools and runs all the way to board rooms and the nation’s parliaments. The pandemic has shown that the technology – to enable greater workplace diversity through workplace flexibility – is there to help make this happen,” says Mr Oliver.

Key results:

  • The Financy Women’s Index has fallen 3% to 74 points in the December quarter as women’s financial progress collapsed on male employment recovery.
  • The timeframe to financial gender equality rose to a revised 101 years, due to a widening of unpaid work gender gap and methodology update.
  • Setbacks were seen in education, underemployment, employment and unpaid work as gender gaps widened in the December quarter.
  • Improvements were seen in ASX 200 gender diversity on boards and narrowing of gender pay gap as men’s average wages declined.
  • In annual terms, the Index is still headed in the right direction, up 2.3 points, but COVID-19 impacts and longstanding behaviors are making equality more difficult to achieve.

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