The results from the latest Financy Women’s Index reveals financial equality is still more than a decade off for Australia’s female workers. Cec Busby reports.

While the conditions for women in the workforce may be improving, the Financy Women’s Index suggests despite progress, economic equality is still a long way off. Gender parity is unlikely to be achieved until at least 2031, with women’s wages still way below their male counterparts. The results are hindered by lack of representation of women at a board level and continued shunning of women in senior leadership positions. While the dominance of men in STEM-based fields also remains an issue.

The Women’s Index, measures the economic progress of Australian women on a quarterly basis. The most recent report saw some of the fastest progress in the past two years with progress up 1.9 points to 122.7 points in the March quarter. Yet this result is still a long way from the aspirational guide on economic equality, which has a progress target of 161.6 points. The report suggests if progress continues at this pace, women are 34 per cent short or 12 years away from achieving financial equality.

It’s not just in There has also been little improvement in the appointment of women on ASXboards and women continue to fall behind in super contributions.

“We still have too many Australian women unable to realise their economic potential,” said the Founder of the Financy Women’s Index, Bianca Hartge-Hazelman.

“Surprisingly, in a time of rising employment, there are women who are still underpaid and the female underemployment rate is worse than a decade ago.”

The number of women in full-time employment hit a new high of 3.23 million in the March quarter, while female underemployment fell to 10.5 per cent (versus 6.3 per cent for males). However, the level of underemployment is worse today than it was in 2009 when the underemployment rate for women stood at 8.8 per cent compared to 5.2 per cent for men.

Connie McKeage CEO of Australian listed fintech company OneVue said more needs to be done to support women who want to work, particularly those with children or caring for loved ones.

“I would encourage all employed persons considering starting a family, or who have started a family to stay engaged in the workforce.  Even if this means you are only available to work a few hours one day a week.

“As an employer for those employees unable to continue working for a period of time, particularly during maternity or paternity leave there is no reason these employees cannot be invited to log into staff updates, key presentations etc so that they continue to feel like a valuable team member.”

It’s clear that strategies are needed to combat the underemployment of many women in the workforce.

Heidi Sundin Founder, The Agenda Agency, says strategies could include changing mindsets and culture around women and men in the workplace; building capability in inclusive leadership; normalising flexible work; encouraging more men to take up flexible work and parental leave; making more part-time roles available; and developing pathways for women into senior leadership roles.

“In addressing the issue of underemployment, an important step is asking if employees are interested in additional opportunities rather than assuming they are not, and consulting with employees to fill roles internally first. Again, offering flexible work such as compressed work weeks or working from home arrangements may enable people to engage in more work, where the traditional 9-5 week may be restrictive.”

Yet it’s not all doom and gloom. The gender pay gap is slowly decreasing albeit in male-dominated industries. The sectors that recorded the biggest drop in their gender pay gaps in the March quarter include Construction and Transport and Postal and Warehousing with respective declines of 2.6 percentage points to 12.5 per cent and 2.1 percentage points to 15.7 per cent.

Insurance Services and Health Care and Social Assistance, often the domain of female professionals continue to be the worst performing industries for the gender pay gap, with a staggering 26.9 per cent difference between the salaries of men and women.

“The financial sector holds the unenviable title of the least equitable for its mean pay gap of 26.9 per cent,” said AFA Inspire National Chair Kate McCallum.

“This is not a woman’s problem. This is a system problem. There are inherited systems and structures in financial organisations that simply don’t support women to thrive,” McCallum said.

“Most companies acknowledge this and are already doing some great stuff. The challenge is, we’ve been trying to eliminate the pay gap for years and it’s not budging. It’s time for bold moves.”