FWX shows progress in gender equality is held back by pay gap

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of the Financy Women’s Index

Regression in the gender pay gap and a stronger pickup in male employment growth over female in the June quarter has stifled a rebound in Australia’s progress to gender equality, according to the latest Financy Women’s Index (FWX). The FWX is a quarterly measurement of the economic progress of women and time frames to gender equality in Australia.

What were the findings of the FWX?

The FWX provides a snapshot on gender equality across seven critical areas: education, employment, underemployment, wages, unpaid work, ASX 200 board gender diversity and superannuation. Overall, the FWX rose by 0.5 points to 72.9 points in the June quarter from 72.5 points in March helped by a small increase in the number of women joining ASX 200 boards and a narrowing of the gap between males and females in underemployment rate.

The FWX is yet to recover to where it was at the end of 2021 (73.2 points in Dec.) and in annual terms, the FWX is 0.3 points lower than where it was in June 2021 (73.3 points).

Effect of the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame for disrupting a decade of positive momentum in gender equality progress in Australia, particularly when it comes to employment and wages.

Since March 2012, the FWX headline score had been increasing and progress started to hit its stride from Dec. 2017, when FWX recorded quarter-on-quarter sustained growth aided by improved gender gaps in employment, wages, leadership, unpaid work and superannuation.

But in December 2020 the impact of the pandemic became most apparent with the Women’s Index suffering its first quarterly drop in sometime and most significant fall of 3 points on record. The FWX fell to 72 points in December 2020, from 75 points in September 2020.

Superannuation has an unchanged time frame to equality at 19 years, which is an improvement on the revised 31 years as reported in December 2021. The time to equality in Underemployment worsened to 16.3 years from 15 years in the March quarter and has been affected by recent volatility during the past two years relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worsening gender pay gap

Holding back economic gender equality in the June quarter has been a worsening gender pay gap which widened to 14.1% in May, based on the Average Weekly Wages data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The gender divide widened in employment with the number of monthly hours worked by men up by 2.8% in June compared to 1.3% for women.

A widening Gender Pay Gap in May resulted in the time frame to equality in this area increasing to 23.4 years from 22.7 last quarter. The worst performing area of the FWX remains Unpaid Work, which stands at 59 years before equality is achieved, based on the most recent data update in March. This time frame is about double that seen in Employment, where the years to equality fell to 26 years in June, from 26.3 in the previous quarter.

What were the executives’ thoughts on the FWX?

“The Financy Women’s Index has shown welcome progress in the June quarter but is still down from its 2020 high and there remains a long way to go before women achieve economic equality with men,” commented Dr Shane Oliver, Chief Economist, AMP Capital.

“The pandemic showed a path forward in enabling more flexible working, but it also had a darker side in seeing many women take on more of the tasks around the family and home. The key is to build on the positives and keep the momentum to improvement going.”

“It’s great that we are seeing an overall pick up in women’s financial progress and gender equality outcomes, but we need momentum, and not regression in the gender gaps in employment and wages, if we are to claw our way back from the disruptions of the pandemic,” commented Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of the Financy Women’s Index.

In terms of time frames to economic gender equality, women are now closer to achieving gender equality in ASX 200 board leadership. The FWX ASX Leadership sub-index improved to 6.2 years from 6.4 years based on the rate of annual growth over the past decade. “But the pace of progress towards gender equality in leadership continues to slow and because of this, it is questionable if we will even achieve equality before 2030,” said Ms Hartge-Hazelman.

“We’re decades away from equality and that makes me frustrated! For others feeling this way, let these statistics be a catalyst. Employers should be re-evaluating their processes. From recruitment onwards, Wisr’s processes encourage systemic change, eradicating the traditional aspects of the recruitment, promotional and remuneration processes that have kept marginalised people from excelling,” said Dr. Lili Sussman, Chief Strategy Officer, Wisr.