From the archives
March 7, 2019
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since International Women’s Day 2018. March 8 each year represents a time to stop and consider what we have achieved to make the world a fairer place for all genders, and then use these achievements to spur us on to push through the many other things we have left to do in future years.
Looking back over the past 365 days, it’s incredible to see just what has happened for Australian women – indeed there have been a number of few records broken, some good, some great – others deeply devastating. Let’s take a look at just a few of the highlights and low-lights:
- Fearless girl statue makes it to Australia
Remember the iconic bronze statue of a young girl staring down the charging bull in NY’s Wall St? Well a replica of that bronze statue which has become a powerful symbol of gender equality has been placed at Melbourne’s Federation Square. The Fearless Girl is there to represent the need to support women in leadership positions, pay equality and equality between genders more broadly. What’s more companies such as Industry super funds HESTA and Cbus in partnership with lawyers Maurice Blackburn show corporate Australia’s commitment to highlight and support the issue. And in our books that’s a thumbs up
The Fearless Girl statue in Melbourne
2. Gender pay gap reaches a record low
Using data from the latest ABS Average Weekly Earnings survey, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) has calculated the national gender pay gap to be 14.1% for full-time employees. What this means is that, on average when you look at all the full time jobs performed by men and women in Australia and what remuneration is attached to that, women working full-time earned $1455.80 while men working full-time earned $1695.60, representing a difference in pay (or gender pay gap of just over 14%) the lowest it’s been in 20 years.
With an increased focus by employers in this area (such as more companies reporting to do pay gap analysis in their own organisations), and an increase in pay equity ambassadors, and labour market forces such as increased numbers of women working full time, we are seeing consistent and hopefully a continuing, long-term closing of the pay gap. Yes the gender pay gap is a complex one to not only unpack but to address (If you want to read a bit more about the gender pay gap, what it means, how it’s measured and why it matters you can check out our previous article), it has long term impacts on a woman’s life, from the quality of life in the day to day to how they live out their twilight years. Therefore any improvement in the pay gap, let alone a record low from us gets a another big thumbs up!
- Number of women on boards has increased
Often considered seen as an important indicator of how well women are doing across the workplace is the number of women who sit in the most senior roles of these companies – namely the board. And given how hard it has been getting women into top roles not only for Australia but for virtually all countries, arguably if we can get more women into the most senior positions of a company than hopefully we’re doing something right to shift the needle. In Australia we have seen things move in a positive direction over the past year too. The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) who track board positions by gender reported 29.7% of all ASX200 board positions were held by women at the end of 2018. This was up over 10 percentage points since 2015, a key moment in time when the AICD called for ASX200 companies to achieve 30% women on boards by the end of 2018. If you look at it with a glass half full – half empty lens, it does sound a bit depressing (after all 70.3% of boards are still male) BUT it’s the highest number of women on boards that we’ve ever had – so take the win but keep the pedal on!
One final thought on the whole female director factor is that while this increase in women on boards has seen some great progress for the largest companies in Australia (i.e. Those on the ASX 200 that often come under the most scrutiny) this isn’t the case for anything outside of that lens. Companies in the All Ords (comprised of the 500 largest companies listed on the ASX according to their market capitalisation) shows that as at the end of Jan 2019 percentage of women directors on ASX All Ordinaries is a lower of a 22.7% (as at 28 Feb 2019). What’s my point? The notable drop in women on boards between the top end of town compared to smaller companies perhaps suggests that what gets attention externally seems to gets the focus internally too.
So why do these seemingly superficial data improvements such as the gender pay gap and the number of women that sit around a company’s board table matter? If you think about it, it’s taken decades to show improvements. These are things that countries right around the world are struggling to shift. The fact that we’re now at record lows (GPG) and highs (women on boards) means that we’re going forwards not backwards and that must be celebrated. In practical terms, what this looks like for women is better pay parity, which means more superannuation, better financial security later on in life and better opportunities in general. BIG. THUMBS. UP.
But moving on, with the good often comes the bad. And there has definitely been bad
- Domestic violence
Sit with this for a moment: Sixty-nine Australian women were killed by violence in 2018. In 2017 , 49 women.
That’s a mind boggling, shocking increase of 41% between 2017 and 2018.
These numbing statistics, from the team behind the Counting Dead Women Australia & researchers of Destroy The Joint have also found a count of 10 women so far in 2019.
What does this mean in a practical sense? It means actual lives – families, mothers, sisters, daughters and more all wiped away or torn apart at astonishing rates. Most of this is at the hand of domestic and family violence.
We’ve spent so much time focusing on the lives of women in other areas such as workplace equality that while fundamentally important suggest perhaps now it’s time we place more emphasis on our society to understand and change this devastating statistic.
If we can focus on one thing between this IWD and next year – let’s make it this.
- Women living in poverty
In case you haven’t yet heard, there’s a whopper of a gap in terms of the amount that men and women have on average to retire on. In terms of money stashed away in super, women have up to 47% less than men. This was all nicely captured in a recent report, The Future Face of Poverty is Female, the study confirms that women face a number of financial challenges. The gender pay gap, coupled with women often taking time out of the workforce and/or then working part time means that over one’s working life women just end up with a lot less employer contributions into super, a lot less compounding goodness as a result and ultimately, have only a few years’ worth of retirement funds to live off. While a reduction in the gender pay gap indicates that the super gap will also shrink – a good thing – until we’re up there with the same retirement balances as men, it’s got to get a thumbs down.
- Female homelessness
Often when people search for an image of a homeless person in their imagination, it’s people on street corners or park benches. In reality what homelessness looks like is drastically different than that. It might not mean sleeping on the streets (or sleeping rough – a very dangerous place to be for women especially). It might actually mean sleeping on a friends couch, or managing to squeeze into a shelter, or perhaps sleeping in your car, or even more distressing you and your young family all doing so. That is actually the more likely reality – increasingly, Australia’s homeless are not (old) men, in fact the fastest growing group of homeless people in Australia are older women.
Arising from a combination of all of the above – women earning less throughout their working lives (therefore being more financially vulnerable with less of a buffer), domestic violence and abuse ultimately wraps up to create a picture that is mothing but distressing, and simply must be addressed.
Why does any of this matter for you?
Gosh, where does one start. It matters because all of these things can escalate so quickly and you never know when this could be you, or someone close to you, or even just the person that you work with. It also matters because there’s always ways you can make a difference – whether it’s demanding that your work place conduct a pay analysis to make sure men and women are remunerated fairly, or picking up a tool like Longevity App if you need to boost your super a bit or reaching out to your community in case there are people around you that you can help, it all can make a difference. Not just now or in the next year, but for all the generations that follow.
#IWD2019 #balanceforbetter #equality #women