Has gender equality progressed?
Australians have made progress towards gender equality as women continue to challenge historical norms and the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion strengthens.
Despite this, women’s progress slipped back a gear in the March quarter with the Financy Women’s Index (FWX) down
by 1.6% to 72.2 points, from 73.3 points in December. Year on year, the FWX is down 0.9%, taking some of the shine off a
more progressive 2021 through the pandemic.
Whilst this latest result puts the Index back to December 2020 levels, it is important to interpret the data with some caution.
On the positive front, we have seen gender gaps narrow in the FWX Employment sub-index, in terms of monthly hours worked and in the FWX Superannuation sub-index, which
improved significantly. The ASX 200 Boards sub-index and the Unpaid Work and Gender Pay Gap sub-indexes all
remained unchanged. But weighing on the FWX score was a widening of the gender gap in the FWX Underemployment
Sub-Index, as the male underemployment rate improved at a rate that was five times faster than female underemployment.
During the pandemic, employment conditions have been volatile, and in no area of the FWX has this been more
pronounced than in the Underemployment sub-index. The underemployment rate helps us to understand the extent to which a person can work to their full potential due to limitations on the availability of work, rather than so called “choice” around family or other personal decisions. Historically the female underemployment rate has been higher than male because there have been more women in part-time work and therefore likely to have greater capacity and willingness to want to work more hours.
This has remained the case over the pandemic, but more recently the improvement in the male underemployment rate has been more significant. The male underemployment rate fell 10 percentage points to 5.05% in March from 5.57% in December, compared to a 2-percentage point decline in the female underemployment rate to 8.03% in March from 7.85% in December.
Fluctuations in underemployment have been apparent most quarters as Australian workers have had to deal with many unprecedented factors such as public health warnings, business shutdowns, border closures and personal illness.
The FWX Underemployment sub-index fell to 63 points, from 71 points in the December, reflecting an economy that’s been trying to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and is facing skills shortages. The challenge now is supporting women, as much as men, to be able to work to their full potential.
The full report is available below.