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Women in the Australian workforce: A 2013 update

First observed as an international event in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated around the world on March 8 each year. Originally emerging from female labour movements in North America and Europe, female participation in politics and the workforce remains an important focus of IWD. As we celebrate IWD in 2013, this article briefly reviews current female participation in the Australian workforce.

Women and Workforce Participation
Female participation in the workforce has increased steadily over recent decades, growing from around 44 per cent in 1978 to 58 per cent of the female population aged 15 years and over in 2008. Since then, female participation has remained steady at just under 6 in every 10 women. Women now account for approximately 46 per cent of the total workforce, up from about 36 per cent in 1978 (Chart 1).

Chart 1: Workforce Partcipation Rate by Sex, 1978 to 2012
The growth in female workforce participation has been driven by increasing participation across most age groups; although in the younger age groups it has always been quite high. Most notably, the ‘dip’ in workforce participation that was typically seen for the 25-34 year age group (referred to by the ABS as the ‘nappy valley’) has all but disappeared for recent cohorts (Chart 2).

Chart 2: Female Workforce Partcipation Rate by Age, 1983 to 2013

Women in older age groups are now more likely to remain in the workforce than in previous decades. For example, the participation rate of females aged 45-54 years in 2013 was 70 per cent, up from 45 per cent in 1983. The cohort of women aged 45-54 years in 2013 (born between about 1959 and 1968) had a very similar participation rate when they were 15-24 year olds in 1983 (Chart 2).

Currently, the 15-19 year old cohort is the only one where the participation rate of females is higher than for males. For all other age groups, the male participation rate exceeds the female rate, with the gap largest for the age groups 25-24 years, 55-59 years and 60-64 years (Chart 3).

Chart 3: Workforce Partcipation by Age and Sex, January 2013

Women and Employment
Although women currently make up almost three quarters of the part-time workforce, the majority of women work full-time (51.0 per cent). A further 43.6 per cent work part-time and the remainder (5.4 per cent) are classified as unemployed and are looking for either full-time (3.4 per cent) or part-time (2.0 per cent) work (Chart 4). The female unemployment rate is currently the same as the male unemployment rate, however as there are more men in the labour force the number of unemployed males (360,100) is higher than the number of unemployed females (299,400).
Chart 4: Female Workforce by Employment Status, 1983 to 2013

Women and Income
For the December quarter 2012, the average weekly ordinary full time earnings of females were $1,230.10 per week, or $261.70 per week less than males who earned a weekly wage of $1,491.80. This difference is reflected in the gender pay gap which is currently 17.5 per cent; the highest it has been in 18 years. Effectively, this means that for every $1 earned by a male in full time work, a female earns 83c. The gap between earnings is much higher in the private sector, where it is currently above 20 per cent, than in the public sector where it is around 13 per cent (Chart 5).

 Chart 5: Gender Pay Gap(a) by Sector, 1994 to 2012
Women in Leadership
Despite the increasing participation of women in the workforce as a whole, gender equality at senior levels of the workplace has not yet been observed in either the public or private sector, nor in politics. Currently of all federal parliamentarians, just 66 out of 226 (or 29 per cent) are female (including the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop). Female representation in state and territory parliaments was marginally better at 30 per cent, however female parliamentarians still comprise less than one-third of elected representatives.

A recent Australian Census of Women in Leadership in ASX500 companies, conducted by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, found that women comprised 9.2 per cent of executives in the ASX 500 in 2012. The study also found that there were seven female CEOs in the ASX 200 (compared to six in 2010) and a total of 12 in the ASX 500. Nearly two-thirds (63.1 per cent) of ASX 500 companies had no female executive key management personnel.

The 2011-12 APSC State of the Service Report found that women made up 39 per cent of the Senior Executive Service (SES) (up from 28 per cent in 2002) and 47 per cent of the Executive Level (EL) Managers (up from 36 per cent in 2002). Overall, women comprise 57 per cent of the total Commonwealth public servant work force.
Author: Ellouise Roberts