According to the latest Financy Women’s Index (FWX), the gender gap in the underemployment rate widened in the March quarter, rising to 20 years, up from 18.5 in December 2022.
In March, the FWX index fell to 76.1 points, a decline from its December reading of 76.2 out of 100. This was due to a rising female underemployment rate compared to men, which offset the positive impact of increased monthly hours worked by women and greater gender diversity on ASX 200 boards over the quarter.
Board leadership was said to be the best-performing area in the three months to March, with equality on ASX 200 boards expected by 2030.
Namely, the number of women appointed to ASX 200 directorships rose to 36 per cent in the March period, compared to 35.5 per cent in December 2022.
While the median timeframe to equality in the gender pay gap remained steady, at 24 years, Financy said the recent improvement in the gender pay gap to 13.3 per cent from 14.1 per cent in the December quarter, provides hope that this should start to come down if that change continues.
Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of Financy, highlighted that the female underemployment rate has increased in tandem with interest rates and cost of living pressures.
“The growing underemployment comes despite an all-time high in the number of monthly hours worked by women, helped by growth in female-dominated services industries such as retail trade, education and training and other services,” she explained.
“We appear to be seeing a growing desire, or perhaps financial need, among women to work more hours but they are not able to fully achieve their employment requirements.
Namely, the number of monthly hours worked by women jumped 2.7 per cent in the March quarter compared to 0.6 per cent for men.
As such, the timeframe for equality in employment improved, falling to 27.5 years in March, from 28 years last quarter.
Meanwhile, the time to equality in superannuation experienced a reduced timeframe in the gender gap of median lifetime balance, down to 19 years, from 33 years, based on the latest reportable data which captures the 2019 financial year.
Given that the underemployment gender gap has persisted over the last two quarters, Ms Hartge-Hazelman feared that this trend may not be an anomaly but could continue and place a greater financial strain on women, particularly those on low incomes or in single-parent families.
“This would be a blow to the financial progress of Australian women and cement the view that they are the shock absorbers of high cost of living pressures, more than men. This could weigh on the annual pace of progress towards gender equality beyond the next June quarter,” she concluded.