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Australia is leaving lockdown. This is the 'biggest risk' going forward

·3-min read
There's some good news and some bad news in Australia's latest gender equality score card. (Source: Getty)
There's some good news and some bad news in Australia's latest gender equality score card. (Source: Getty)

More than 80 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, but experts are now warning of a major economic and social risk on the road to recovery.

Financial outcomes for Australian women have improved, but young women risk being left out of the economic recovery, the latest Financy Women’s Index revealed on Tuesday.

The Index, which measures women’s financial wellness comparative to men, increased 6 per cent in the September quarter due to an improvement in the underemployment rate.

Of the 19 key industries, female employment fell across five, while male employment fell across all 19, Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data also revealed.

However, at the current rate of improvement, women will need 29.5 years to achieve equality in the paid workforce, down from 30 years in the June quarter. It will take 101 years for equality in unpaid work, the Deloitte Access Economics modelling found.

And young women could pay the price, Financy founder Bianca Hartge-Hazelman said.

“The biggest risk moving forward is that women, particularly those aged under 25 years, emerge from the pandemic in a far worse financial position than when it began,” Hartge-Hazelman said.

“As it stands, there are increased structural barriers that prevent many women from participating in paid work to their desired capacity and these affect the immediacy at which a person can take advantage of opportunities.”

The employment rate among women younger than 25 lags compared to other age groups and genders, with full-time employment numbers down 17 per cent since January 2020.

Over the same period, men in the same age group experienced a 1 per cent decline in employment.

Hartge-Hazelman said women in this cohort may have missed out on critical work experience, and steps needed to be taken to ensure the current gap didn’t extend to their superannuation, asset accumulation and pay in the future.

This group of women are more likely to have been employed in industries hit hardest by the pandemic, including tourism, retail and hospitality.

However, Hartge-Hazelman said there was cause to be optimistic, as the overall underemployment, employment and women on boards indexes improved.

“The presence of strong, successful women in leadership roles will help to encourage each new generation of girls to aim for the stars, smashing gender barriers and stereotypes along the way,” said Nicki Hutley, independent social impact economist.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver agreed, but added that there was still significantly more that needed to be done.

“The revolution in flexible working made possible by technology but finally unleashed by the pandemic has provided a pathway forward to more rapidly address the financial gender gap,” Oliver said.

“The key is for governments to help facilitate it and for employers and women to embrace it.”

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