Why COVID-19 could ruin women’s careers

The gender pay gap isn’t the only issues hurting female-dominated sectors in Australia

Why COVID-19 could ruin women’s careers

While it will be a some time before the full effects of COVID-19 on women’s finances are known, the sectors most severely affected are dominated by women in the workforce - Associate Professor Banita Bissoondoyal-Bheenick, an Associate Dean of Finance in the School of Economics Finance and Marketing at RMIT University, explained to HRD.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that 325,000 women were made unemployed in April, which is 55 % of all jobs lost in Australia, while female work hours reduced by 11.5 %, compared to a 7.5 % reduction in male hours.

“We should also note that 70% of those employed in the health and social work sector are women and fall into the lower income earning groups of society,” Bissoondoyal-Bheenick told HRD.

“The higher rate of job losses by women coupled with early withdrawal of super could further exacerbate the gender super gap, leaving many women’s long-term super balance at a bare minimum or simply being eroded completely.”

Read more: How HR managers are closing the gender pay gap

Following Equal Pay Day on 28 August, the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) is calling for a renewed focus on the gender pay gap as COVID-19 exacerbates inequalities for women.

According to Lisa Annese CEO Diversity Council Australia, women are overrepresented in industries hardest hit by closures including hospitality and retail, and in insecure, casualised and low paid work or are underemployed.

More women than men are reporting working zero hours, having difficulty in finding work due to COVID, and being ineligible for JobKeeper. Annese added that women have been substantially more affected than men during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They also account for the majority of those working on the frontline in the healthcare sector or in teaching and caring roles that are traditionally paid less.

Moreover, many have had to take on the bulk of additional unpaid caring and home-schooling responsibilities.

“The cessation of free childcare and the increase in caring responsibilities at home combined with job losses are all seriously affecting women’s employment participation,” said Annese in a prepared statement. “It’s no wonder that women withdrew more super than men on average, under the COVID-19 super early release scheme, accounting for a higher portion of their already lower super balances.

“I’m really worried about the impact all this is having on women and on the gender pay gap – now and in the years ahead. If we don’t act to address these issues they will continue to be entrenched in future generations.”

Read more: How employers can reduce the gender pay gap

According to the ABS, the national gender pay gap currently sits at 14.0% for full-time employees, a difference of $253.60 per week. Additionally, women need to work an additional 59 days from the end of the previous financial year, on average, to earn the same amount as men earnt in that year.

In 2019, the She's Price(d)less report conducted by KPMG in partnership with DCA and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency identified a number of factors that underpin the pay gap. The report estimates that closing the primary drivers of the gender pay gap is the equivalent of $445 million per week or almost $23 billion per year.

“This pandemic is amplifying existing gender inequalities. Without concerted action, next year’s pay gap will be even higher,” said Annese.

“Our research identifies a number of opportunities to start addressing the issues underlying the pay gap. We are calling on employers and policy makers to start making changes so that in 2021 and beyond, women don’t have to work even more days to earn the same amount as men.” 

The She's Price(d)less report found that:

  • Gender discrimination continues to be the biggest contributing factor to the pay gap, accounting for almost two-fifths (39%) of the gender pay gap.
  • The combined impact of years not working due to interruptions, part-time employment and unpaid work contributed to 39% of the gender pay gap.
  • Occupational and industrial segregation continue to be significant contributors to the gender pay gap at 17%.

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