In just four months of the COVID-19 health crisis, four years have been added to the estimated time it will take to achieve economic equality, the Financy Women’s Index has shown.
“As the Financy Women’s Index shows, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the divide between men and women in paid and unpaid work,” said 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.”
According to the latest data, while the Financy Women’s Index improved slightly in the June quarter, up by 2.4 points to 73.7, this was largely based on male employment conditions worsening at a faster rate than female.
“Unfortunately, the June quarter’s Financy Women’s Index isn’t one to celebrate because, 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,” said Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of the Financy Women’s Index.
She explained that the biggest change to the index was in the underemployment rate, with the gender gap narrowing by 17.2 points as male underemployment rose more sharply than female.
However, 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,” Ms Hartge-Hazelman said.
As for the gender pay gap, it widened slightly 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, 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, explained that 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,” Ms Mckeage 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.”
While the official gender gap in superannuation remains unchanged at this point, data provided by Australia’s largest superannuation fund, AustralianSuper, has shown that the average gender gap in the retirement savings of its members widened to 26 per cent in June compared with 25 per cent at the start of this year.
Ms 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,” she concluded.