As Jobkeeper comes to an end, a survey of Australian workers by consulting firm Bastion Insights reveals that more men are returning to the office than women.
The survey, which interviewed roughly 1000 Australian citizens who were able to work remotely, showed that this month, 43 per cent of women were working from home all or most of the time, compared with 34 per cent of men. These latest figures are inciting growing concerns that workplaces could have increased gender inequality post-COVID.
Last year, a report co-authored by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, raised concerns that while favourable to mothers hoping to stay employed in higher-paid jobs, flexible work arrangements can be detrimental to women’s career progression.
Women can end up missing out on opportunities that come with in-office contact including informal decision-making and being overlooked or neglected due to decreased visibility.
Dianne Gardiner, Bastion Insights’ chief executive told Sydney Morning Herald that if employers didn’t move to mitigate the issue, gender inequality is likely to increase.
“Hybrid working and flexible working means that it’s more inclusive for women to continue to work, and work at higher levels, because they can make it work around their life,” she said.
“The problem is … if there is a gender split in who chooses to do that and there is an unsaid way of penalising those who are working from home.”
Leonora Risse is a professor of economics at Melbourne’s RMIT specialising in gender inequality in the workplace. She told SMH that unintended damage to women’s work prospects was a legitimate concern.
“We know that so much of a person’s progress in the workforce depends on not just their capabilities and their skills, but also implicit connections that we acquire through networking,” she said.
“If proportionately more women aren’t there for those incidental exchanges, the research tells us that is going to have these longer-term implications in terms of them being overlooked.”
Dr Risse encouraged employers to be systematic in ensuring workers were included in conversations about opportunities and that men felt comfortable choosing to stay at home to work.
Paul Guerra, chief executive of Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry told SMH employers need to make a greater effort to stay connected with employees choosing to work from home.
“Employers that really put in the effort to connect with their employees on this issue to drive the best results for the business and their employees’ work-life balance will attract and retain the best talent and see the highest productivity gains,” he said.
A Bastion Insights study published last November found that women were more likely than men to feel positive about career progression working from home but were more concerned about the impact on teamwork and collaboration.
At its height, more than 3.5 million Australians were receiving JobKeeper, preventing the unemployment rate from skyrocketing through the government’s payments to eligible employers to supplement or replace weekly wages.
Latest data from the Australian Tax Office indicate more than one million employees continue to rely on the wage subsidy as of the end of January this year. Last week at a Senate Estimates, Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy said he expects up to 150,000 jobs to be lost, but warned the senate that the forecast was not guaranteed.
“We believe that in the order of 100,000 to 150,000 JobKeeper recipients may lose employment at the completion of the program, though there is a wide band of uncertainty around this estimate,” he said.
President of Australian Council of Trade Unions Michele O’Neil said the latest surveys are especially concerning for women.
“Women are over-represented in the industries most reliant on JobKeeper and will be disproportionately impacted by this cut,” she said in a statement.
“While some sectors of the economy have returned to work, there are many regions that rely on tourism where the recovery has barely started. Cutting JobKeeper will be devastating to regional Australia.”
“What working people need more than ever is security and stability. JobKeeper with strict criteria ensuring it reaches only businesses genuinely in need will save jobs and should not be removed until all sectors of the economy have recovered.”
On ABC radio this morning, Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said he was concerned the government was pulling the plug on JobKeeper too soon.
“For too many Australians the end of JobKeeper means the end of their job,” Chalmers said. “Today is a very difficult day for a lot of employers and a lot of workers trying to make decisions about what the future might hold.”
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston also spoke to ABC radio this morning, suggesting Australians have many other avenues of support.
“We don’t want people to be on unemployment benefits,” she said. “This will be a business-led recovery and the most important thing we can do as a government is to make sure those businesses are strong, so they are able to create the jobs, so that people don’t stay on payment.”