The Underutilisation of Women in the Workforce

Women Love Tech
on 26 October 2018

We have been talking about changing the diversity of Australia’s workforce since the early 2000s. It’s the constant “hot topic”, but are we truly on board with it? If not, why? The benefits are undeniable.  

A recent McKinsey report highlighted that there is a potential to boost the economy by 12 per cent simply by advancing women’s equality in the workplace. This is $297 Billion a year that Australia is currently missing out on – a massive injection to our economy that we can’t afford to overlook. Furthermore,  KPMG Australia research shows that having the gender pay gap in Australia, and reducing entrenched discrimination against women in the workforce, could add $60 billion in GDP by 2038. 

Harnessing the full potential of half of Australia’s population should be a focal point for all organisations. However, Australia continues to face an imbalance in gender diverse talent across industries – most prominently within the technology sector and other STEM-related fields.

A Workplace Gender Equality Agency report by Ernst & Young found that women in flexible roles (casual, part-time or contract) are the most productive members of the Australian workforce. Women in flexible roles wasted the least amount of time at work (11.1% of their time) compared to the remainder of the workforce (who wasted on average, 14.5% of their time). This meant that, in an average year, working women delivered an extra week and a half of working productivity to their employers. Australian and New Zealand businesses could potentially save money in lost wages and lost productivity simply by employing female workers in more flexible roles. This is a win-win for women, employers and the economy.

Unlocking economic potential through a more diverse workforce  

At a time where there are more ‘Andrews’ leading large Australian companies than there are female Australian CEOs, it comes as no surprise that female employees continue to face several professional disadvantages. Lower rates of pay comparable to their male colleagues, smaller superannuation payouts due to time spent away from the workforce raising children and a lack of incentives for working mothers to increase their working days, combined with lower representation in senior leadership roles are just some of the challenges that working women face.  

If the benefits of workplace gender equality in terms of business productivity aren’t enough to convince organisations to help women overcome these professional barriers, maybe the potential benefits to our economy are. Particularly in industries where female participation is remarkably low like in technology, raising this workforce participation rate could see an annual increase in real household income by $38 billion by 2038. This increase in household disposable income will the flow back into the economy via increased consumer spending and ultimately, less dependence on government-funded child support and pensions. In other words, workplace inequality is costing Australia more than we realise.  

Change starts from within

So, what can businesses do to promote more female talent and challenge entrenched bias within their organisation? The first step is to understand why workplace gender diversity is so fundamental in terms of offering different viewpoints; different ways of thinking, working and problem-solving. From here, organisations can create a supportive culture by investing in development and promotion pathways that are free of bias; recognising that flexibility facilitates productivity and that redefining success is key.  

But change starts from within. Ultimately, it requires senior leaders to change their mindsets to be more focused on outcomes and impact rather than the more traditional perception of what a good business looks like. In many organisations, success continues to be characterised by presenteeism and political manoeuvring, meaning that the opportunity for diversity is limited. Sustainable change can only occur when current female and male executives lead by example, resetting their definition of success and support this throughout the organisation. Moreover, organisations must better support female employees with outside family commitments, extending paid parental leave, offering alternative childcare arrangements like workplace crèches, and perhaps most importantly offering flexible hours and shared work arrangements.

The underutilisation of women, where childcare remains the largest barrier to women entering the workforce or taking on more hours, means we are not fully reaping the economic opportunities available to us. The onus is now on Australian businesses to offer more flexible work arrangements, introduce childcare initiatives, and promote qualified female candidates to leadership roles. It’s time to dismantle workplace inequality, one position at a time. 

To make the change at a fundamental and sustainable level we need to truly recognise that it’s not only women that benefit from workplace gender equality, equal pay and reduced discrimination. Australian businesses are poised to gain more productive workers with specialised skills and tertiary qualifications, while the larger economy could potentially gain $297 billion – money that could be better spent improving Australian healthcare services, education, and infrastructure, instead of reinforcing outdated prejudices against working women and mothers.  

Women Love Tech would like to thank Tania Abbotto for the article

Tania Abbotto is the Chief People and Customer Officer at Sportsbet. Tania has been instrumental in driving the design, articulation, and alignment of ‘Sportsbettors’ to the Sportsbet purpose, strategy and values.

Tania joined Sportsbet five years ago as HR Director and has since transformed the HR team to be one of Australia’s best. In 2017, Tania also took accountability for Customer Experience at Sportsbet including the leadership of large customer facing teams across Melbourne and Darwin.

Prior to joining Sportsbet, Tania held senior roles within the retail, telecommunications, technology and legal sectors supporting client groups of up to 7000 team members.

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