Increasing female workforce participation – the key to boosting Australia’s productivity

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Thursday 11 July 2013 — Women working flexibly waste less time compared to the rest of the working population according to a new EY report released today.

Untapped opportunity – The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential, a study conducted by EY in conjunction with Chief Executive Women (CEW), quantifies what low female workforce participation is costing Australia and explores opportunities to increase representation of women across all industries and at all levels.

The report found that, by employing more productive female workers in flexible roles, Australia and New Zealand could collectively save at least $1.4 billion in wasted wages.

According to EY advisory partner Amy Poynton, increased female workforce participation is the key to boosting Australia’s productivity.

“At the heart of the issue is flexible work arrangements. Organisations need to introduce or expand their work options to better attract and retain women,” Amy said.

“Our research shows that women in flexible roles waste only 11.1%, compared to an average 14.5% for the rest of the working population. When you consider that 43.2% of women in the workforce work part-time compared to 13.5% of men this translates into a significant productivity bonus that few employers are recognising,” she said.

“Over the last decade, while there have been some gains in female workforce participation rate, a lot more needs to be done to ensure the waste doesn’t continue.”

“When you consider that female workforce participation has only increased by 4% over the past decade to 65%, while male participation is currently at 79%, and you look at that in the context of the return of investment in educating women and the potential shortfall of retirement savings for women, it’s quite an alarming picture.”

“What is concerning is the lost opportunity in Australia when organisations don’t take advantage of the talent and productivity benefits available by employing, promoting and retaining women” said Christine Christian, President of CEW.

It’s clear that enlightened organisations that adopt a variety of initiatives to build a diverse and flexible workforce, will be more successful than those organisations that let women leave the workforce just as they are reaching management level.”

Other issues raised in the report include securing retirement income for women, the return on investment in education and attracting women to the right industries.

“One of the biggest hurdles for women trying to accumulate sufficient superannuation is the penalty of the interrupted work patterns often required by mothers,” Amy said.

“Currently women are poorly placed to fund their retirement with 38% having no superannuation savings at all,” she said.

“When you consider the projected cost burden on the public purse with our ageing population, women’s ability to fund their own retirement will be increasingly critical,” she said.

The report also highlights the waste associated with the investment in female education, as female graduates fail to transition into the workforce at the same rate as their male peers.

“Over $8billion of investment in education is being wasted as a result of women not transitioning into the full-time employment.

“We know many women take career breaks for family reasons so it’s important employers seek opportunities to utilise this talent by creating the environment that allows this talent to thrive be that through flexible work or other arrangements.”

Similarly, women are currently under-represented in Australia’s highest paying growth industries.

“Over the past five years, jobs requiring bachelor degrees or a higher qualification have grown by 15.9% compared to jobs requiring certificate 1 or other qualifications which has grown by only 2.4%.”

“Women are largely qualifying for careers in the lower-paid industries of health, social services and education where part-time work options are available to them and continue to remain unrepresented in the higher paid industries of mining and technical services which still remain male dominated,” she said.

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Contact details:

Kate Davies
EY Australia
Tel: +61 2 9248 5428 or +61 421 615 202