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Australia's women most empowered in world

As debate rages over sexism and misogyny in federal politics and across the country, a global survey has found Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world.

Australia topped a list of 128 countries for women's access to education, equal pay, childcare and anti-discrimination policies.

The study, by international consulting and management firm Booz & Company, found Australia was the global leader despite its women still being paid 17 per cent less than men.

Helen Conway, Director, EOWA. 2011.Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.BRW PR Image: NO CREDIT

Helen Conway, Director, EOWA. 2011.Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.BRW PR Image: NO CREDIT

Helen Conway, the director of the federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, said the report reflected that Australian women were among the best educated in the world and had a national paid parental leave scheme.

But she warned the broader reality for Australian women relative to similar countries was not as optimistic as the report suggested. ''Australia has a relatively low female workforce participation rate (Australia was ranked 14th in the participation rate of women of the 34 OECD nations in 2010), and a gender pay gap … that refuses to budge,'' she said.

''There is a large body of research showing Australia has a long way to go in removing barriers to women's workforce participation.''

The Booz report ranked Australia above three Scandinavian countries - Norway, Sweden and Finland. New Zealand was fifth. At the bottom were Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Chad.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said the report showed Australia was doing ''more than most'' to maximise the full potential of women, but needed to do more, including closing the gender pay gap.

''In Australia, women hold just 14 per cent of board seats in Australian companies, just five CEOs of our top 200 companies are women and a quarter of our top 200 companies have no women on their boards at all,'' he said.

Ms Conway said more than 50 per cent of university graduates in Australia were women, but that had not translated to substantial increases in the percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. ''We are wasting our female talent,'' Ms Conway said.

Across the world, the survey found up to 1 billion women will enter the workforce in the next decade.

It argues the burgeoning populations of India and China have received plenty of attention, but less heed was paid to the 1 billion women improving their economic circumstances.

Using data from the World Economic Forum and the Economist Intelligence Unit, the report looks at whether wages are equal, the number of women in work compared with men, and whether there is equality in the number of women managers, senior business leaders and politicians.

It argues the huge jump in women employers and employees, managers and entrepreneurs would power global economic growth, but key decision-makers in many countries had failed to fully study its impact.

The research found women face common challenges. ''Around the world, women are the primary caregivers for children, the elderly and the sick, and this responsibility hampers their economic development,'' a Booz & Company partner, DeAnne Aguirre, said.

She said several elements were critical in increasing access to work, including widespread, affordable care for children, the elderly and the sick; cultural changes to share care work between men and women; and recognition by the private sector of the importance of care work for all employees. The EOWA releases a census of women in leadership next month.

8 comments so far

  • Thank God for a minute I thought I was living in afghanistan. With all the hyperbole going on in parliament about what type of culture we have forgive me for I was surprised to find that a woman was Able to hold such a position.

    But seriously does Any one think Mr Abbott a misogynist when he his combating directly the big issues effect work participation like paid parental leave and other assistance with childcare? I didn't see him announcing cuts to women's entitlements.

    Commenter
    Beetle007
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 8:11AM
    • Good comment Beetle007. I would imagine the pay gap would have a lot to do with Women having to leave the workforce to have children. Therefore having a generous Paid Parental scheme would be a good practical way to help women. Now which misogynist would be pushing such a scheme? I wonder.

      Commenter
      mh
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 9:07AM
  • It would be easy to mistake Clay Lucas' article as equating 'economic empowerment' with an adequate measure of the level of sexism in a country. However, it isn't, nor is it meant to be, as Booz & Company, point out (http://www.booz.com/media/uploads/BoozCo_Empowering-the-Third-Billion_Full-Report.pdf).

    While in this very particular measure Australia came out on top (Probably because we pay less tax than the Scandinavian women), in the yearly Global Gender Gap Report Australia doesn't fare so well. In 2012 it isn't in the top 12 (http://www.livescience.com/18573-countries-gender-equality-ranking.html). In 2011, it ranked 23rd. The Scandinavian countries are consistently at the top because women are a significant presence in the decision-making structures within their societies. In Australia, women lag way behind men.

    In Sweden, 25% of the heads of Swedish private limited companies are women. The figures are higher in the public sector. The majority of managers in municipal, county council and central government are women (52%). 45% of all Swedish members of parliament and 46 percent of government ministers are women. In Australia, 3% of the CEOs of the top 200 companies are women, with only 8% in top managerial positions. In parliament, women hold only 29% of seats, with only 24.7% in the House of Representatives. Only 22.7% are ministers.

    Similarly, notice the other gaps mentioned in the article: especially pay. In Sweden, women receive about 94% of male pay. In Iceland,I believe it's 100%. There,women have led the country's astonishing recovery after the GFC,doing the opposite to America.

    Perhaps the lack of wielding real power over the policies that govern their lives is why Australian women (and men) don't enjoy the universal paid parental leave that their Swedish counterparts do: 480 days. Has the Swedish economy suffered because of it? No.

    Without equal representation in real power structures,Australia remains a sexist country.

    Commenter
    Skeptic
    Date and time
    October 17, 2012, 9:13AM
    • The saddest thing about the sexist/misandrist attack by Julia Gillard on Tony Abbott last week is it reflects the absolute cowardice and lack of identity shown by the average Australian male, reflected by their 'cowering in the corner of the ring' from the intimidation of so many Australian women. The constant and unrelenting attacks on the men of this country by the extremist women and feral feminist community has now been proved invalid, spurious and unwarranted by the figures shown in this article. As long as the castration of Australian men continues, we can expect more and more humiliating videos, stories etc. going viral as the world witnesses the constant emasculation of Australian men....Up the Brotherhood...Go Boy!!!

      Commenter
      zac48
      Location
      Melb.
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 10:05AM
      • You obviously didn't read and/or comprehend what was actually written in the article. In fact, many people haven't understood it. Typical kneejerk reaction ...

        Commenter
        Skeptic
        Date and time
        October 17, 2012, 2:37PM
    • Why must empowerment always be measured in workforce participation rates?
      This so called wasted talent is probably raising the next generation. Would you prefer all this 'wasted talent' go into the workforce and leave all the child rearing to underpaid and underqualified childcare workers? Somebody has to mind the children. Really. That's where the government needs to focus it's attention. Childcare workers are paid $18 an hour and they're expected to hold tertiary qualifications. Who in their right mind would study for 3 or 4 years only to be paid $18 an hour?
      Better parental leave (such as they have in Sweden) would also free up women from their caring roles. My husband really went part-time and the joke around his office was that he had become semi-retired. If retirement means looking after 3 children aged 6 and under ... Cultural change is undoubtedly needed too to make it OK for men and women alike to 'sit on the bench' for a while when they are raising young children.

      Commenter
      Msjane
      Location
      Not quite Melbourne
      Date and time
      October 17, 2012, 10:12AM
      • Can someone clarify what is meant by Gender Pay Gap? Does it mean what an average woman earns compared to an average man? Or is more asking for equal pay for equal work?

        Commenter
        James
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        October 17, 2012, 10:18AM
        • The richest Australian is a woman, the GG, the PM, the governor of NSW, I say give woman the whole lot let em run the country, give them all the dough, let em run the defence force, do the whole flamin lot and then see if they are still unhappy.

          Commenter
          Get Real
          Location
          New England
          Date and time
          October 17, 2012, 12:46PM

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