The gender pay gap
Indications are that the deterioration in paid employment in the workforce for women relative to men arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to work against narrowing the gender pay gap. The gender pay gap in the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services sector currently stands at 24.3 per cent and at 17.1 per cent In the IT sector. The greater burden of job losses for women, rising underemployment (people working fewer hours than they want) and the surge in people dropping out of the labour force as a result of the recession triggered by COVID-19 will mean a continuing focus on measures to reduce the pay gap for women in STEM is needed.
The gender superannuation gap
As part of its economic policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allowed workers to withdraw up to $10,000 from their superannuation accounts during the June quarter 2020 and to withdraw a further $10,000 during the September quarter 2020. Preliminary data shows that women have eroded their superannuation balances more than men, a factor that will undermine their retirement funds in the longer-term. Initial research shows that women were withdrawing 21 per cent of their starting superannuation balances compared to 17 per cent of men. 14 per cent of women had emptied their total super savings compared with 12 per cent of men.
Policy measures to encourage greater workforce participation of women such as access to high-quality affordable childcare should be a priority in the upcoming Federal Budget – a 4% increase in the participation rate of women over the next decade would add $25 billion dollars to the economy. We also need to address the factors that lead to the attrition of women from the STEM workforce (including things like lack of access to career advancement opportunities, lack of workplace flexibility, the career penalty attached to part-time work and lack of support for return to work after a career break) and this will in turn help address the gender pay gap and the gender superannuation gap over the longer-term.
What are the aims of Professionals Australia’s gender and diversity work in STEM?
Professionals Australia’s work in the gender and diversity area aims to ensure we have a strong voice in the national discussion around women in STEM by helping identify and document the gender pay gap, providing evidence of women’s actual experiences in STEM workplaces, providing practical solutions for employers to start addressing the attrition of women in workplaces, talking about what unconscious bias is and ways to address it, providing practical career support for women working in STEM, looking at how gender equity issues play out in different industries such as engineering, IT and defence, collaborating with other like-minded organisations to bring about positive long-term change and utilising the industrial relations system to effect broader change in key areas such as superannuation, paid domestic violence leave, access to flexible work provisions, etc. We will also strongly advocate for policy measures that recognise the gendered employment impacts of the pandemic to help rebuild the economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Our affiliation with the ACTU, membership of the Economic Security 4 Women Alliance and peak science body Science & Technology and the alignment of our diversity goals and endorsement as a champion of the Academy of Science’s decadal plan assist us with progressing this work across a range of industrial and policy platforms.