Progress to gender financial equality is back on the front foot after two successive quarters in decline, helped by record advancements in the gender pay gap and number of women appointed to ASX 200 board positions, according to the Financy Women’s Index (FWX).
Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of Financy, says the result signals a return of overall momentum in progress among the 7 indicators measured in the Women’s Index and comes as Australia undergoes a broader cultural shift helped by the influence of what can only be described as the Barbie and Matildas effect.
“It’s exciting to see the gender pay gap shrink to a record low at a time when there has never been greater media focus on the pay gap, particularly in light of the Barbie movie phenomenon and the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” she said.
The FWX rose by 0.2 points to 76.5 points in the June quarter of 2023, up from a revised 76.2 points in March. The Index is also 0.4 points higher for the year to date.
The most impressive gain was in the number of women appointed to ASX 200 directorships, which rose to 36.4% during the quarter compared to 36% in March. This helped the FWX Board Leadership sub-index gain by 3.4 points and was the most impressive improvement among all the FWX sub-indexes.
The gender pay gap also fell to a historic low of 13% during the quarter – as reflected in May 2023 data as average weekly wages for women rose by 2% compared to 1.6% for men, helping to narrow the disparity. This helped the gender pay gap sub-index add 1.1 points and is an improvement on the 13.3% pay gap reported at the start of this year.
With Equal Pay Day on August 25th this week, the gender pay gap data shows that full-time working women earn $252 less than men each week. Australian women will have to work an extra 56 days to make up for the difference, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Despite improved wages growth for women, female dominated industries like Health Care and Social Assistance are underperforming male dominated sectors like Construction on average wages growth (3.4% v 3.8% respectively).
Employment was the only FWX indicator where progress declined as the growth rate in monthly hours worked by men grew by 1.5% in June compared to only 0.7% for women.
Women also struggled to find work in part-time employment more so than men, with the biggest job cuts in male dominated areas including Construction (-43%) and Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services (-37%) and Transport, Postal and Warehousing -(25%).
“While the FWX is showing more positive signs this quarter and as we come off the highs of Barbie and the Matildas, the real test will be how women fare as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and economic growth slows,” said Simone Cheung partner at Deloitte Access Economics.
“The question of whether the modest improvements in the FWX are enough of a buffer for women as we enter a period of growing economic uncertainty remains to be seen,” she said.
Will the Barbie and Matildas effect help gender financial equality?
The Barbie and Matildas effect could help support a resurgence in FWX progress towards gender equality, building on this latest June quarter result.
Hartge-Hazelman said that “in many ways the events that are unfolding at the moment are similar to the 2017/2018 #MeToo and Times Up movements in terms of their ability to challenge and change social attitudes. However the big difference is that the Barbie and Matildas effect has been indicative of positive cultural sentiment through entertainment.”
In the two years post #MeToo and Times Up, the FWX experienced its fastest pace of progress in 2019 and 2020, up 3%, then 4%, before the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic disrupted momentum in 2021 (1%) and 2022 (-1%). The number of women occupying ASX 200 board positions also improved by 14% to 29.7% from 26% in the year to December 2018 – the biggest improvement since 2012.
“Barbie has raised awareness around gender equality to a whole new level but in a very positive way and the Matilda’s showed women’s’ sport can be just as popular as men’s sport,” said Dr Shane Oliver chief economist at AMP Capital. “We just have to keep building on these favourable events to make sure that they are turned into lasting change in reducing gender financial inequality,” he said.
Natalie Previtera, CEO of NGS Super added that CEOs and industry leaders can help accelerate the cultural shift by taking greater action.
“Industry leaders have a unique vantage point to be potential agents of transformation and change. We just need to be willing to do it.
“Because companies shape practices and norms that can have broader societal effects. For example, gender balance on Boards and in management, offering flexible work options, as well as access to training and development and the amount of parental leave available to employees are just some of the practices that can make a difference,” said Previtera.
The outlook for gender equality timeframes in Australia
Progress is slowly happening with incremental reductions in the time it will take to achieve gender equality in each of the 7 FWX indicators.
Changes in timeframes to gender equality
Board Leadership continues to be the best performing area of the FWX, and we are increasingly confident of seeing equality on ASX 200 boards by 2030. Years to equality fell to 5.7 years in June, from 5.8 in the March quarter.
The Gender Pay Gap years to equality is 24.3 years. This is a slightly worse result than the 24.2 years in the June quarter 2023. But the recent improvement in the gender pay gap to 13% in June provides hope that this should start to come down if that change continues.
Employment improved its time to equality helped by a legacy of more positive momentum in the annual growth rate. Time to equality fell to 26.8 years in June, from 27.1 years in December.
The time to equality in Underemployment worsened in the June quarter as the annual rate of progress in this area declined further despite the recent narrowing of the gender gap. The years to equality rose to 21.2 years, from 19.8 years in March.
Unchanged in timeframes to gender equality
Education (and Expected Earnings) has an alarming time frame to equality of 139 years. The fields of study selected by women are less linked to higher potential earnings and the pace of change in this area is extremely slow moving. Underlying data released annually.
Unpaid Work has a time to equality of 44 years in 2021, as reported in 2022, down from 59 years in 2020. Whilst 44 years is still a long time to wait for equality in housework and childcare, the improvement is due to men increasing unpaid work hours. Underlying data released annually.
Superannuation experienced a reduced time frame in the gender gap of median lifetime balance to 19 years, based on the latest available 2019 data, compared to 33 years based on the previous data which captures the 2017 financial year. Underlying data released every two years.
Women’s Index rose 0.2 points in the June qtr to 76.5 points with a recovery in gender financial equality progress helped by improvements in the gender gap and ASX 200 Board Leadership
5.7 year wait for equality in Board Leadership – women account for 36.4% of ASX 200 board directors.
24.3 year wait for the Gender Pay Gap to close – the gap has improved to 13% in June qtr but positive momentum still not by enough to change timeframes to equality.
Australia is seeing a changing of social attitudes helped by the gender-lens impacts of the Barbie movie and Matildas World Cup success.
Despite positive influences, primary care responsibilities are still holding women back from working to their desired potential in a higher cost of living environment.
The Financy Women’s Index TM (FWX) is a quarterly measurement of the economic progress of women and timeframes to gender equality in Australia. The FWX is produced by Financy, which is a media company covering gender equality, DEI and ESG issues and a provider of purpose-driven tech solutions such as the Impacter. The Index is supported by an Advisory Committee which includes Dr Shane Oliver, Simone Cheung, Roger Wilkins, Leonora Risse, Bruce Hockman, Rhiannon Yetsenga and Nicki Hutley. The Index is proudly sponsored by Clime Asset Management, NGS Super, the Ecstra Foundation, Aspire Planning, Seven Consulting, Bespoke Co and PritchittBland Communications. Financy initiatives are also made possible with the partnership support of Tech for Good Group Pty Ltd and the University of South Australia’s Centre for Workplace Excellence.
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