Acknowledging the impact of class is vital in the quest for gender equality

Acknowledging the impact of status and class is a vital piece of the gender equality puzzle


Here at the Diversity Council we recently launched Australia’s very first report looking at the impact of class, Class at Work. Looking at the budget through that lens of class, we believe there were absolutely some missed opportunities.

Firstly, it must be said that this is the very first Australian report looking at class, so it only goes so far — and so deep. It’s certainly not a wide-ranging exploration of class with a gendered lens on the economy.

That said, we do know that one of the ways class can be defined is by income and occupation. These are the kinds of things that can change over a lifetime. (There are, of course, other measures, including family wealth, upbringing, and education.)

We also know that, by that measure, lower class — or working class — men who are more likely to be in mining or construction jobs are actually quite well paid. But the same is not true for women. “Lower class” women are congregated in particular types of jobs that are low status and low paid: carers, certain areas of the manufacturing economy, certain areas of retail.

Over the last year, the Diversity Council has done two seminal pieces of work. One was the Share the Care report and the other was the third in our series looking at the drivers of the gender pay gap. Both highlight that a significant portion of the gender pay gap is made up of that kind of occupational segregation and industry segregation that particularly affects women of a certain class. There’s a strong link.

With that in mind, the budget and the Women’s Economic Security Statement was an absolute missed opportunity to address class as an issue. In particular, because it was a “spending budget” in the sense that the government was spending a lot of money to stimulate the economy, it was an opportunity to restructure the economy. The fact that the opportunity wasn’t seized is just gobsmacking to me.

For example, let’s look at how we pay childcare workers, and how we pay women in the aged care and disability care sector. The caring sector, the caring economy, is the part of the economy where there is going to be the most job growth. It’s the part of the economy that is absolutely essential with an ageing population.

The opportunity to restructure, to recognise that we need to pay these people properly (and thereby lift their status and class), was lost. This money will flow straight back into the economy.

The fact that we continue to value that kind of work so little when it was obvious in the pandemic that these were the things people were most stressed about – how am I going to home-school my children, what’s happening in our aged care facilities – suggests we still don’t care about them.

This article is part of a series that is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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