How can progress be progress if women are peddling backwards?

How can progress be progress if women are peddling backwards?


That’s the question which has bugged me in writing this quarter’s Financy Women’s Index, which showed that financial outcomes for women have improved nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic but Generation Z is at risk of being left behind.

The Index rose 2% to 73.6 points in the September quarter from 72.2 points in June and is up 6% on its September 2019 result.

The latest result was helped by a closing of key gender gaps in women on boards, employment, and the underemployment rate.

However, experts warn that it’s a cautionary tale of women’s economic progress only because it’s largely come about as women were in the better of a weaker position than men.

Both the underemployment and participation rates of women weakened in the September quarter, which means more women wanting to work but less able to do so.

Women are now working at a reduced capacity of 56% versus 59% in March, just prior to the DELTA variant outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Index shows.

What’s more, young women aged under 25 years – arguably the future of the Australian workforce – have been hardest hit in terms of lockdown related job cuts and are yet to recover.

However, when we put this last statistic aside, and compare how men are tracking during the pandemic, and not necessarily where they stand on pay and employment numbers, women appear to have improved faster, although from a lower base.

Men have suffered more significant job cuts than women over the September quarter and there’s been a spike in those who want to work more hours than they are currently able to. Men are also working at a reduced capacity of 79% versus 82% in March.

In 2000, men were working at 87% capacity while women were working at 50%. So, it’s all relative in that things that have been bad for women have been slightly worse for men.

Unless of course you are starry-eyed 24-year-old female, with deflated travel plans, let alone the income to pay for skyrocketing airfares or a property investment.

Nonetheless, this relativity has had the effect of closing key gender gaps in the underemployment rate and monthly hours worked.

In doing so it has basically created an illusionary contribution to women’s financial progress, rather than genuine progress itself.

It is not the same as saying that gender diversity improved in women’s leadership as more female directors were appointed to ASX 200 boards in the September quarter.

The fact is that the majority of women, particularly young women, have not progressed in a fundamental financial sense.

What we need to see moving forward is a continuation of the services-led economic recovery and one that ensures that minority groups or the most vulnerable are left behind.

As this focus on services gains momentum, the government needs to better support workers in female-dominated services industries such as healthcare, hospitality and education and provide increased childcare relief to help offset price pressures.

Indeed you know there is truly a problem with the cost of childcare when buy-now-pay-later services start to emerge.

Organisations also need to embrace the seismic shift in post-pandemic flexible work normalcy that supports women in the workforce, greater life balance for both genders, and infinitely fills the female leadership pipeline.

And lastly women…young, middle-aged, older – persistence matters.

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