Women's Workforce Participation

Women's Workforce Participation

(Private Members Statement, 5.57pm 14 November 2013, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

By leave: Participation in the workforce is a major concern for women in my electorate, particularly women over 55 and women who have children. Women take on a larger burden of unpaid work than their male counterparts.

They are more likely to care for young children or a disabled or frail family member with their careers interrupted, and promotion opportunities and lifetime earnings reduced. Yet generally women live longer after retirement than men, leaving them with less financial security and at risk of poverty in later life. While a greater proportion of women than men finish year 12 and graduate with a degree or higher qualification, they are less likely to benefit economically from education.

Data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that the women's labour force participation rate is 58.9 per cent compared to 71.8 per cent for men. Fifty eight per cent of mothers of children aged zero to four years are employed compared to 94.2 per cent of fathers. Only 23.7 per cent of mothers of children aged zero to four years work more than 35 hours a week. Although women's participation rates increase as children get older, they are more likely to work in part-time or casual positions. Only 35.5 per cent of full-time employees are women but women make up 69.9 per cent of part-time and 53.3 per cent of casual employees. Women in full-time work earn 17.6 per cent less than men. In Australia, women account for only 34.5 per cent of managers and a shocking 11.8 per cent of chief executive officers. New South Wales has the lowest level of women chief executive officers, with the rate at 10.9 per cent.

A major challenge to get women back into the workforce and in higher positions is that most of the positions are full time. Promotions usually are offered to those who work full time and have not had a break in their career. The risk for women is not reaching their full working potential and retiring without the superannuation or savings needed to live. But there is a significant wider economic cost.

A July Ernst and Young report found that women working flexible hours waste less time compared with the rest of the working population. I saw this firsthand working for more than 10 years in human resources. The study concluded that Australia and New Zealand could collectively save at least $1.4 billion in wasted wages by employing more productive female workers. Australia is behind in employing women aged 55 to 64. Data from the Diversity Council of Australia and the Human Rights Commission shows that only 53.8 per cent of that age group work in Australia. In New Zealand it is 68.9 per cent, Switzerland 61 per cent, Denmark 56 per cent and Canada 55.3 per cent. The commissioner said that if Australia increased its mature-age participation rate to that of New Zealand, gross domestic product would rise by 4 per cent.

The Women's Electoral Lobby reports recent modelling by Access Economics showing that increasing women's workplace participation could lift national output by $98.4 billion over 30 years. But the lobby points out that bias towards full-time work and cultural norms that expect women to take on carer duties discourage women from returning to the workforce. Unpaid work is vital to our social and economic wellbeing. Children must be raised and vulnerable people need care, but those who do unpaid work should not be punished through less pay, fewer career opportunities and less retirement savings, and there should be equal representation of the sexes in employment.

Organisations should develop more flexible work practices that provide career opportunities for part- time and casual employees, with opportunities for leadership roles. This would encourage more men to share carer duties and business would benefit from greater productivity and workforce diversity. The Government should engage with business to address this challenge. Yesterday, in response to my question, the Treasurer acknowledged the need for workplace flexibility. We need targets and incentives to hire carers or people returning to the workforce after a break, such as the payroll tax rebates for hiring someone with a disability. A recent ReachTEL poll found that 70 per cent of the State would support this, while only 9 per cent would oppose it.

Affordable childcare is essential. An AMP.NATSEM report in May on raising children in Australia found that child care can cost up to $140 a day. In the inner city it is also a challenge to find a childcare place, with most centres at capacity and few prospects of new ones opening up. All levels of government should address this shortage. Sites should be identified for new centres and approvals for major developments should require childcare facilities. I call on all levels of government and employers to work together to smash the glass ceiling and to support workplace flexibility to facilitate the greatest contribution from our workforce in our changing economy and to create a labour force that truly enables women and carers to thrive.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!