The Victorian Women's Trust hosted Ideas to Action, a public event focused on economic security. The event brought together internationally renowned economist, Marilyn Waring, and Chief Economist of The Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, to discuss what needs to shift to ensure an economically secure future for women and girls in Australia.
Ideas to Action is the concluding event of Victorian Women's Trust's Economic Security Summer Intensive which saw Ms Waring work alongside a range of bold thinkers and leading experts including Mr Denniss, Hon. Mary Delahunty, journalist and retired politician, and Ruth Fincher, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Emeritus University of Melbourne, to map out a blueprint for a fairer future.
The statistics surrounding economic security in Australia are alarming, with inequality beginning immediately after high school and snowballing until retirement when on average women have around half the super balance of men.
The full-time average weekly earnings for women are 16% less than for men, meaning women take home $26,527 less per year than men on average. As a consequence of women doing the bulk of unpaid work, women's underrepresentation in leadership and senior management, the time women tend to take out of the workforce (e.g. caring for children) and the undervaluation of female-dominated industries (e.g. healthcare) compared to male dominated industries (e.g. mining and construction), at retirement the average superannuation balance for women is 52.8% less than for men. This means that women are increasingly facing poverty and homelessness in their old age, with older women now the largest increasing cohort at risk of homelessness in Australia.
Education doesn't appear to make a difference, with the average undergraduate starting salary for women 6.4% less than for men, and this gap widening to 18.9% for postgraduate starting salaries. Similarly, rising through the management ranks brings greater disparity, with female key managers earning $100,000 less than men in similar jobs and a gender pay gap of 28.7% in ASX200 companies.
Ideas to Action aims to highlight that although inequality is still rampant in our employment and financial systems, alternative and fairer models exist and can be effectively implemented. Victorian Women's Trust Executive Director, Mary Crooks AO, says, 'Since the beginning of the 20th century, women have been campaigning for economic equality and in 2018 we're still fighting for gender fairness in our superannuation system, even though the system has existed for over 50 years.
"For those women lucky enough to qualify for superannuation in this supposedly universal system, they enjoy considerably less financial resources than their male counterparts to carry into their retirement years. On top of this, mothers still remain materially unrewarded for doing the lion's share of our society's caring work. This needs to change."
Question: What is the Ideas to Action event?
Mary Crooks: Ideas to Action was a public event hosted by the Victorian Women's Trust on Wednesday 24 January 2018. The event saw internationally renowned economist, Marilyn Waring, and Chief Economist of The Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, map out a blueprint for a fairer future for women and girls in Australia.
Ideas to Action was the concluding event of Victorian Women's Trust's Economic Security Summer Intensive which saw Ms Waring work alongside a range of bold thinkers and leading experts.
Question: What do you think needs to change in Australia for our financial and employment systems to become fairer for all?
Mary Crooks: We need to rethink the way we work and the way we value different kinds of work. Women are disproportionally represented as unpaid workers in the home, our community, in volunteer work, and on farms. They are likely to spend significantly more time than men raising children or looking after the needs of elderly parents. This unpaid work has been unrecognised by successive governments in this country.
We believe there is so much great work to be done but the key is to finding a fair balance for everyone.
Question: What can women do to ensure we reverse the alarming trends at play?
Mary Crooks: We are at a pivotal moment in Australia. Women are achieving higher rates of education than ever before, and are participating in the paid workforce in record numbers.
But despite this progress, women still face significant barriers to their economic wellbeing. To create an even playing field for all, we need to unpack the structural imbalances at play.
As a society, we are yet to deal with the fact that women are penalised for taking time out of paid work to raise children or to look after elderly parents. Our government needs to acknowledge that the superannuation system is broken; rather than supporting people to live in dignity in their later years, superannuation simply magnifies the inequities between men and women. And to add salt to the wound, women are more visible in the paid workforce but they are still a scarcity at the top. Across the board, women are paid less for the work they do.
These issues cannot be dealt with by an individual alone; it will take a collaborative approach between government, workplaces and communities.
Question: What does the Victorian Women's Trust hope to achieve from the Ideas to Action event?
Mary Crooks: We want to shake things up; the status quo is holding too many people back. At the current pace of change we won't see true gender equality for another 200 years. It doesn't have to be this way. At the Victorian Women's Trust, we believe every one's work and time should be respected.
Interview by Brooke Hunter