Does the glass ceiling still exist?

As International Women’s Day and Diversity Council Australia’s 30th anniversary approach, HC asks: how far have women really come in the past three decades?

Does the glass ceiling still exist?
1980s: a world full of big hair and bigger shoulder pads, and where smart phones and the internet were yet to be invented.
This was a decade in which a new era was dawning for women in the workforce, with the Sex Discrimination Act becoming law in 1984, the Wall Street Journal coining the term “glass ceiling” and Diversity Council Australia (DCA) being established in 1985.
This year, DCA celebrates its 30th Anniversary, and with International Women’s Day on March 8, HC spoke to Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO about how much the world of work has changed for women over the past three decades.
Annese said that although there have been some obvious improvements, there is still a lack of progress in several areas of the Australian workplace.
“The recent increases in the gender pay gap have been widely reported – but the fact that underemployment rates for women have also grown so much is disappointing,” she said. “Clearly there are still some major barriers to Australian women fully participating in paid work. It is also surprising to see more women working part time. It’s obviously not getting any easier to combine full time work with having children. Major barriers continue to be limited access to quality, well paid and flexible work, as well as a lack of affordable and flexible childcare.”
Women at work: the 1980s versus today
  • Workforce participation rate: Over the past thirty years, the workforce participation rate for women was 45.8%. Today, this has risen to 58.6%.
  • Part-time work: In 1985, 36.6% of women who were employed worked part-time, a figure which has since increased to 46.6%.
  • Underemployment: The rate for women in 1985 was 5.3%. Now, the rate stands at 11.2%.
  • Gender pay gap: Women who worked full time in 1985 could expect to earn 17.8% less than men – in today’s world, women are earning 18.8% less. Female graduates’ earnings have fallen from 95.7% of male graduate’s to 93.8%.
  • Educational attainment: In 1985, only half of women completed year 12, while just 5% had a degree – today, 82% of women aged 20-24 have attained year 12 qualifications, with 31% of women having obtained Bachelor Degrees or higher qualifications.
  • Dual earner households: In 1986, less than half of families with dependents had both parents employed. Now, 62% of families have both parents employed.
  • Occupations: Just 3% of women described their occupations as “administrative, executive, managerial” in 1985. Today, 19.4% of directors in the ASX 200 are women and 10% of employed women described their occupation as “managerial”.
  • Women returning to work after having children: In today’s world, 68% of women with children aged up to 14 are participating in the workforce, of whom 58% work part-time. In 1985, just 46% of women who fell into this category were working, with 56% of them working part-time.
DCA’s top 10 tips for supporting women in the workplace
  1. Ensure flexible work is available to all employees at all levels of your organisation
  2. Design jobs, workflows and careers that can encompass flexible working
  3. Make sure your organisational culture enables both women and men to work flexibly and train managers on how to manage employees working flexibly
  4. Enable pregnant women and mothers to return to work and to continue to be valued members of the workforce with the same opportunities as their colleagues
  5. Undertake a pay equity audit and review your wage setting and pay scales to ensure part-timers are compensated in line with full-timers
  6. Put gender progressive performance evaluations in place, and development that does not disadvantage employees working flexibly
  7. Pay superannuation on paid and unpaid parental leave
  8. Provide salary transparency
  9. Put strategies in place to promote more women in leadership
  10. Proactively address sexual harassment and discrimination to create an inclusive workplace culture
“There is now plenty of evidence to support the benefits of better utilising and rewarding the skills of women – benefits to workplaces and to the wider economy,” Annese added. “With economists now having clearly established that increasing the workforce participation of women offers one of the greatest opportunities to increase global productivity, governments and employers must do more to change this picture. This International Women’s Day, Australia needs to do better by the next generation of working women.”

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