Phil Ruthven Columnist

Phil is founder and chairman of IBISWorld, an international corporation providing online business information, forecasting and strategic services. He is considered one of the nation's most respected strategist and futurist on business, social and economic matters.

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Fair share: Unsteady progress on gender

Published 13 March 2013 08:08, Updated 14 March 2013 00:01

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Fair share: Unsteady progress on gender

What has changed profoundly since the Industrial Age came to an end in the mid-1960s has been the re-entry of married women into the paid work sector. Photo: Rob Homer

Women live longer than men, by some six years these days, living on average to over 84 years, whereas their life expectancy had been as low as men in 1900 (about 53 years) and in 1800 (about 38 years). This may or may not be seen as a win for women, given the loss of a life partner and often some growing poor health and pain problems in the remaining years.

But in the world of work, business and politics, just how much progress for women is being made?

First, to eliminate one of the perennial myths, the amount of work done in an average lifetime – if not an average week or year – is the same for men and women; about 130,000 hours. It is just the ratio of paid and unpaid work that is different. Even ABS surveys consistently show this to be true for an average week in an “average” household. About 35 per cent of a week is spent working by both genders, with male adults as follows (with females in brackets): paid work, 22.2 per cent (13.9 per cent); housework, 8.1 per cent (11.9 per cent); child care, 1.5 per cent (4.1 per cent); volunteer work, 1.0 per cent (1.7 per cent); purchasing, 2.6 per cent (4.0 per cent).

What has changed profoundly since the Industrial Age came to an end in the mid-1960s has been the re-entry of married women into the paid work sector – the labour force – as the first chart reveals. This has been accompanied by increased outsourcing of traditional chores and tasks.

Married women had been in the labour force in the Agrarian Age until the 1860s, mostly side by side with their husbands on farms, in shops and other businesses; albeit part-time, while child raising and doing other tasks and chores. Married women now make up 28 per cent of the labour force compared with 7 per cent in 1961; and all females have virtually doubled their share from 24 per cent to 46 per cent over the same half-century period.

Promotion to top jobs, however, is yet to follow suit, proportionately. However, women are breaking through the “glass ceiling” in management and non-traditional jobs for females.

But progress in directorships has been unjustifiably slow: less than 15 per cent of directors are females at the big (or even small) end of town. Progress has been better in politics, more so at local government level but also at state and federal levels.

One of the equally contentious issues is wage rates. It is true that the average ordinary time earnings for adult females is still much lower than for males. Over the period from 1994 to the end of 2012, they have in fact fallen from 83.8 per cent to 82.5 per cent of male rates. But this is misleading. Women constitute 45.8 per cent of the 11.5 million workforce, worked 38.5 per cent of all the paid hours in 2012 and earned 37 per cent of all the pay. In the process, they achieved 93.6 per cent of male rates. This apparent inconsistency is due to the industries in which women work, as shown in the second chart. This shows the highest to lowest paid industries, with the share of total employment hours by females also shown.

In short, while there are some exceptions, females tend to have a higher share of the work in lower paid industries. And even where their share is higher in higher paid industries, they do not have a significant number of the top jobs. One could argue that the pay rates are even closer than the above mentioned 93.6 per cent; it is more a case that it is the lack of promotion to top jobs that has created much of the remaining gap with men. It is said that women are proving to be better (inclusive) managers in the new Infotronics Age of service industries and ICT since 1965, although leadership (the CEO role) tends to be non-gender specific. Whatever, we need more women in senior roles across the gamut of business and politics to catch up with some of the more advanced nations in this regard.

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