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COVID stalling economic equality for women

 — 1 minute read

The timeframe for gender economic equality has been blown out to 36 years thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Financy Women’s Index.

The delay will be four years, from the initial forecast of 32 years – with employment now expected to take 36 years to reach parity, while the divide in unpaid work is forecast to take 32 years.

The index rose by 2.4 points in the June quarter to 73.7 points, but largely as a result of male underemployment conditions deteriorating faster than female. 


During the quarter, gender gaps widened in the workforce participation rate, full-time employment numbers and the gender pay gap.

Nicki Hurtley, partner at Deloitte Access Economics commented the pandemic had exacerbated the divide between men and women in paid and unpaid work.

“Even if we return to the path of improvement seen before the pandemic, we remain a full generation away from achieving equality,” Ms Hurtley said.

The largest change to the index during the June quarter was in the underemployment rate, with the gender gap narrowing by 17.2 points as male underemployment rose more sharply than female. 

The gender gap for the participation rate had widened by 1 point, while there was a 0.8 point increase in the gender gap for full-time employment. 

In terms of coronavirus-induced job cuts, the most significant were in female-dominated sectors, such as accommodation and food services, and arts and recreation.

Financy Women’s Index founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman said the volume of full-time job cuts had “reversed two years of female employment growth and derailed a multi-decade trend which saw female workforce participation steadily expand.”

But the divide in unpaid work is expected to grow further, as the pandemic results in women taking on a disproportionately greater load of at-home tasks and care responsibilities relative to men. 

A household impacts of COVID-19 survey by the ABS in July found that women were twice as likely as men to report they performed most of the unpaid domestic work (80 per cent compared to 39 per cent) and more than three times likely to report they had conducted most of the unpaid caring duties (38 per cent versus 11 per cent).

In normal times, women in relationships, with or without children, are already doing 60 per cent more unpaid work than men, the Financy reported stated – with the disparity being a barrier to increased work participation and financial progress.

The pay gap, measured by average full-time weekly wages, also slightly widened in the June quarter to 14 per cent in May, as reported in August, up from 13.9 per cent at the start of the year. 

Financial and insurance services, health and professional, and scientific and technical services retained the largest pay differences of any sectors, with gaps around 22 per cent.

Other services, which include personal and professional services, religious, civic, maintenance and private household employment, were the only sector where the pay gap was reversed and women were paid more than men on average.

Meanwhile, the superannuation divide was reported to remain largely unchanged, with data from AustralianSuper showing the average gender gap in the retirement savings of its members widened to 26 per cent in June, up by 1 per cent from the start of the year. 

The average woman held around 31 per cent less than the average man in their super account, as at the end of the 2017-2018 financial year.

However, more male members had accessed the early release scheme, with one of the reasons cited in the report as men holding larger balances.

The expected timeframe for super to reach gender parity is 18 years. 

The one improvement during the three months, Ms Hartge-Hazelman said, was an increase in the number of women on ASX 200 boards, with the proportion rising to 31.3 per cent.

OneVue chief executive Connie Mckeage added business leaders should be mindful that it’s not just financial progress that is suffering.

“We need to ensure that inputs such as mental health get as much focus as financial outcomes,” Ms Mckeage said.

“Any many or woman suffering from mental health issues hurts productivity so let’s make sure that we are not turning a blind eye to the uncomfortable so we can give every man and woman the ability to perform at their best regardless of the circumstances.”

COVID stalling economic equality for women

The timeframe for gender economic equality has been blown out to 36 years thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Financy Women’s Index.

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Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins

Sarah Simpkins is a journalist at Momentum Media, reporting primarily on banking, financial services and wealth. 

Prior to joining the team in 2018, Sarah worked in trade media and produced stories for a current affairs program on community radio. 

You can contact her on [email protected].

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