What were we looking for?
The differential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced concerns about the under-representation of women and other groups in STEM fields. Workforce diversity is crucial to the expansion and success of STEM and in turn, the capacity of STEM to drive productivity growth.
In our Pre-Budget submission, we were seeking investment in initiatives to build business and economic growth and advance women’s workforce participation and career progression. The Budget’s Women’s Economic Security Statement promised to close the gender pay gap, support women as leaders and role models, support women to be safe at home and respond to the diverse needs of women, but a limited number of initiatives directed to these objectives were funded.
- $25.1 million over 5 years to create a Women in STEM Industry Cadetship program
- $35.9 million over 5 years for the Boosting Female Founders initiative to support women-founded start-ups
- $3.4 million over four years to support women in STEM through the SAGE Initiative and a digital National Awareness Raising Initiative led by the Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey Smith
- $240.4 million for implementation of the key findings from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual harassment
- Expanding the Women’s Leadership and Development Program, including creating a new Women’s Job Creation priority area
- Boosting existing priority areas, including to support women experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence to return to and retain work
- Expanding proven projects, including the Academy for Enterprising Girls and Women Building Australia programs
- Mid-Career Checkpoint Boosting Female Founders Initiative (2018 and 2020 measure
- Changes to ParentsNext
- Domestic violence measures – $4.8 million to give continued effect to the ban on direct cross examinations and $1.8 million to criminalise Family Court order breaches, plus funding to extend the Help is Here advertising campaign
The Women’s Economic Security Statement is available here
More than a supply issue
A STEM workforce development strategy must not only increase the supply of female STEM graduates but increase the participation and retention of women at the workplace level. It must address factors that limit women’s career progression and lead to women’s attrition from the STEM workforce; close the gender pay gap; provide genuine equal opportunity in the workplace; and address women’s differential retirement savings. Teaching more girls and women STEM skills and increasing the number of female STEM graduates is not enough to solve this problem.
While Professionals Australia welcomes the Budget’s investment in the STEM Industry Cadetship program and support for women in STEM through the SAGE Initiative and the digital National Awareness Raising Initiative, we were hoping for more integrated initiatives to strengthen women’s participation and retention in the STEM workforce.
Job creation and stimulus in sectors affecting women
Many commentators have criticised the Budget for failing to stimulate employment in female dominated industries and occupations, which have borne the brunt of COVID -19 job losses – such as retail, hospitality, tourism, and education.
The Budget included expansion of the Women’s Leadership and Development Program, including creating a new Women’s Job Creation priority area but further details about this program are required.
The economic benefit of investing in accessible and affordable childcare is well established and in our Pre-Budget submission we called for a major commitment to childcare as the key enabler to increasing women’s workforce participation.
A recent KPMG report[i] found that increasing the government’s share of childcare cost to near full funding would boost the post-pandemic economy by as much as $7.4 billion while a Grattan Institute report found that a $5 billion investment in childcare would boost GDP by $11 billion a year[ii].
The only additional support the Budget provided for childcare was for extending targeted funding for childcare services in Victoria, following the end of the national Transition Package arrangements on 27 September 2020.
There is marginally more spending on childcare subsidies this year which is primarily due to CPI increases and population growth rather than money allocated in the Budget.
The Boosting Female Founders initiative was extended with $35.9 million over the next five years to assist women establishing new start-ups and accessing mentors. $14.5 million has also been pledged to grants, including a women in STEM entrepreneurship grant, the value of which not yet known.
The Respect@Work report arising from the National Inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces was tabled in Parliament on 5 March 2020, but the Commonwealth Government has not yet provided a formal response.
The key recommendations in the report related to:
- an emphasis on data and research
- a primary focus on prevention
- a new legal and regulatory framework
- better workplace prevention and response
- better support, advice, and advocacy.
The report recommended that the Fair Work Act be amended to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment using the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and that sexual harassment be recognised as a workplace health and safety issue.
We look forward with a sense of urgency to the government’s response to the report, given that $240.4 million has been earmarked in the Budget for implementation of the AHRC’s recommendations.
Family, domestic, and sexual violence
While we welcome the Government’s $4.8 million Budget allocation to give continued effect to its ban on direct cross examinations, $1.8 million to criminalise Family Court order breaches plus funding to extend the Help is Here advertising campaign, the scale of this response is not enough to address one of the most serious and harmful issues in our community.
The ACTU has made a submission to the National Inquiry into Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence by the House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. The submission made the following recommendations, noting the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women:
- Extending JobKeeper for all who need it
- Reducing insecure work, including a clearer definition of casual worker and stronger rights for workers to covert to permanent employment
- Stronger rights for workers to bargain together for safer and fairer workplace conditions.
- Measures to protect and strengthen Awards
- Stronger mandate for the Fair Work Commission to proactively tackle gender inequity across all its functions
- Capacity for the Fair Work Commission to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination matters
- Guaranteed access to secure, quality family friendly working arrangements for those workers who need them
- Access to quality, affordable early childhood education and care
- Protect and strengthen superannuation
- 10 days paid pandemic leave for every worker
- 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave for every worker
- A new Model WHS Regulation on Psychosocial Risks, including violence and harassment at work
- Urgently implement the draft Model WHS COVID-19 Code of Practice, which addresses the psychosocial impacts of COVID-19, including increased risks of violence and harassment
- Ratification of the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment 2019 (C.190).
We look forward to a more comprehensive response from the Commonwealth Government to domestic violence.
[i] KPMG (2020). The child care subsidy: Options for increasing support for caregivers.
[ii] Grattan Institute (2020). Cheaper child care: a practical plan to boost female workforce participation.