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Coronavirus derails female employment growth, adds years to gender parity and wage equality

- August 18, 2020 3 MIN READ

The creep toward gender parity and wage equality has been dealt a blow by the coronavirus crisis. The timeframe to achieve economic quality in Australia has increased to 36 years as female participation in the workforce plummets thanks to the pandemic.

The latest results from the Financy Women’s Index shows that in just four months of the COVID-19 health crisis, four years had been added to the estimated time it will take to achieve economic equality.  During the period, the gap between the number of men and women in full-time employment has also widened. It’s a crushing result for campaigners of wage parity. With the impacts of the pandemic ongoing, it is likely these numbers will increase further, with some women not seeing parity in their lifetime.

“As the Financy Women’s Index shows, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the divide between men and women in paid and unpaid work,” says Nicki Hutley, Partner at Deloitte Access Economics. “Even if we return to the path of improvement seen before the pandemic, we remain a full generation away from achieving equality.”

The Index provides an indication of what’s happened to women’s financial progress in light of COVID-19. It examines the performance of women compared to men across education, employment, participation, underemployment, wages, unpaid work, ASX 200 boards and superannuation.

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, Founder of The Financy Women’s Index says the results show there is little cause for celebration.

“While there was some good news in terms of the number of women on ASX 200 boards, overall we have seen female progress get dragged down in paid work. The one area where positive progress has occurred is in the number of women in ASX 200 board positions, which increased to 31.3% in the June period, up from 30.7% in March, according to data company OpenDirector.com.au,” she said.

The biggest 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.

In terms of job cuts in the June quarter, the most significant were in female-dominated sectors such as Accommodation and Food Services and Arts and Recreation.

“The volume of cuts to full-time female jobs in 2020 has reversed two years of female employment growth and has derailed a multi-decade trend which saw female workforce participation steadily expand,” says Hartge-Hazelman.

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

The industries where the gender pay gap widened the most were Mining, Professional, Scientific and Technical Services and Accommodation and Food Services. Financial and Insurance services, Health and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services still have the biggest gender pay differences of any sectors with gaps around 22 per cent.

Connie Mckeage CEO of OneVue says given the impact of the pandemic on Australians, business leaders need to 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,” she said. “Any man 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.”

Other Services, which includes personal and professional services, religious, civic, maintenance and private household employment, has become the only sector where the gender pay gap has been reversed and women are paid more than men on average.

In some good news, Hartge-Hazelman said equality has also been achieved in formal higher education and vocational studies.

“Despite this, gender stereotypes persist in traditionally female-dominated areas such as Health and Education. Women also continue to dominate fields of study which have lower pay outcomes to many male-dominated areas.

“That said, the second-highest paying sector for women – Information and Technology – is the fastest growing of any field of study, followed by Natural and Physical Sciences and Architecture and Building. This would suggest that gender norms are starting to shift and it could have an impact on pay outcomes in younger generations of women.

Hartge-Hazelman said that figures highlighted by the June Index also suggest that the gender gap in unpaid work is likely to widen further.

“The gender gap in unpaid work shows that in normal times, women in relationships are doing 60 per cent more than men. This disparity is widely considered a significant barrier to increased female work participation and therefore financial progress.”

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