For women in the education and community sectors, the gender super gap is now at 22%, with women retiring with a fifth less in savings than their male colleagues.
This figure becomes more alarming in the context of its rapid progression: At age 30, women in the sector have a super balance just 3.9% less than men, but by age 40 the gap spikes to 25% and by age 50, female education and community sector workers have 41% less in retirement savings than men.
Women’s Agenda spoke to Laura Wright, General Manager of operations at NGS Super, about the gender super gap. NGS Super is a super fund representing educators and community workers with a membership base of 70% women.
Wright said the gender super gap represents the compounding effect of all the remaining barriers to women’s participation in the workforce: The persistent wage gap, a lack of flexibility for mothers taking leave and returning to work, and women’s subsequent diminished capacity to be given high wage jobs or promotions because of gaps in professional history.
“The reality is there are more women than men leaving the workforce to have children and there are more women than men returning to work part time afterwards. They miss out on super contributions while on maternity leave, then often have to take extra unpaid leave and lose more super and then their super contributions are still diminished when they return to work if they return part time,” she said.
“The result is that men are more often in positions to get promotions and get higher wage roles and managerial roles because they don’t have gaps in their CV the way many women do because of their caring responsibilities.”
Wright added that the effect is compounded for women who have more than one child.
“Women start leaving the workforce for their first child, which makes it harder to get higher wage jobs and promotions when they return to work and then it becomes harder again after a second period out of the workforce,” she said.
This is reflected in the age-based super figures. While women at age 30 have relatively similar super balances to men, by 40 the gap jumps to 25% as the detrimental effects of leaving the workforce to have children begin to set it.
Wright said things have certainly improved in terms of women’s participation in the workforce since she began her career in teaching, but there is a long way to go to eliminate the barriers that contribute to women’s diminished super balances.
As ever, she also said there is no silver bullet.
“There is no one solution but there are lots of things that need to be done,” she said.
“Some companies have requested immunity from the anti-discrimination board in order to be able to pay a greater contribution to women’s super. Another option would be to pay super contributions while mothers are on leave, even if the leave is unpaid,” she said.
“We also just need to encourage long term changes in societal attitudes in order to remove the barriers women face during and after motherhood.”
She also said educating women about ways to take control of their own super balances is an important factor.
“Encouraging people to put a little extra into their super and actively try and top it up is important as it can really help their overall super balance,” she said.
Given that women’s super begins to suffer as soon as they have their first child, Wright said the most sensible thing to do is to start making extra contributions to your super well before you reach this stage. She said women should start topping up their super at age 21.
“It’s a hard sell, because we know women at that age are not thinking about their super, but it would be so helpful forthem to prepare for the years that their super will unfortunately suffer byputting extra in early on,” she said.
Wright believes the 22% gender gap in super for NGS members would most likely be reflected in all other industries as well.
“This big gap between men’s super and women’s super is common to all sectors and reflected in society more broadly. Unfortunately, you’d see a similar disparity in any fund,” she said.
“We need big, long term, society wide changes to fix it.”