For Australia to continue to improve the economic wellbeing of women and strive for financial equality, the momentum of progress must be sustained, even accelerated in some areas, well beyond the pace achieved over 2019.
This is something I know for certain after spending weeks analysing data for the latest Financy Women’s Index, which showed the December quarter basically saved the year from going down as the worst in a decade for women’s financial progress.
So what happened?
Australian women broke a number of key records in 2019 including in female workforce participation, record lows in the gender pay and superannuation gaps, a record low in the unpaid work gender gap and a key target finally being surpassed for female board representation on the ASX 200.
Outside of statistics, we also saw major headlines of female role models achieving Australian firsts particularly with pay. These included Macquarie Group boss Shemara Wikramanayake becoming the first female to top the highest paid CEO list, while in sport Australian tennis sensation Ash Barty took home the biggest winner’s cheque for a tournament in tennis history, and the Matildas soccer team receive guaranteed pay equality with the Socceroos.
Honestly as we continue to pursue economic equality for Australia, I find myself saying: what more could we want for women than a number of wins like these on the board?
The answer to that for me is all about the actual pace of progress.
For all the gains we made last year, the pace of improvement still went backwards on a number of fronts.
- The pace of ASX 200 female director appointments slowed to a decade low despite the achievement of a key 30% gender diversity target.
- The annual pace of closing the gender pay gap was the slowest in a decade.
- The female underemployment rate was better in 2009 than it is today.
- Highest paying sectors of the economy Mining and Information Technology (IT) employed more men than women as a percentage in 2019.
What’s clear is that there are still significant obstacles that are holding back the economic progress of women.
The worry for me now in 2020 is that as we achieve some wins and as media coverage of success stories and the gender pay gap increases, we must ensure that complacency doesn’t give rise to a She’ll be right way of thinking.
So to build on the current record momentum of the 2019 financial progress score as measured by the Financy Women’s Index, there are six things I’d like to see happen in 2020.
- The pace of ASX 200 female director appointments to grow by 2 percentage points.
- The gender pay gap to reduce by a minimum of 1 percentage point.
- Female underemployment to decline by 0.7 percentage points
- The gender gap in unpaid work for couples regardless of children fall below 60%.
- Sustained tertiary enrolment growth in studies linked to higher pay outcomes for women.
- Increased female employment in higher paying sectors of the economy such as Mining and IT.
Achieving these milestones is not a matter of “fixing” women to ensure they get back to work after kids, and pursue studies or careers purely on the basis of financial gain, it’s a matter of broader support and initiatives from government and business that champion the progress of women to date, and which strive to do better than ever for future generations.