Untapped opportunity

The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential

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Over the past decade, Australia has made some gains in female workforce participation, with the rate rising by just over 4%, largely due to older women re-joining the workforce. However, there is still considerable room for improvement.

In fiscal 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)1 recorded male labour force participation at 79%, 14% higher than the female rate of 65%. The labour force participation rate was higher for males than females across all age groups.

Once women hit their mid-20s, female participation rates decline for the next two decades. As women move from full-time to part-time employment to accommodate the needs of their families, their careers are interrupted, for which they pay an excessive price2. Women who put their careers on hold for even a couple of years are left with risks of being on lower salaries than men; side-lined from leadership positions; and with little in the way of retirement savings.

This issue has never been more important for Australia. It’s not just bad for women as individuals, it’s also costing the nation billions of dollars in the form of an unrealised productivity potential and high government benefit payments.

For the first time, this report, based on the findings of the EY Productivity Pulse™ (the Pulse), Wave 3 — November 20123 determines the extent of Australia’s female productivity potential. It also quantifies how much low female workforce participation is costing Australia and explores opportunities to increase representation of women across all industries and at all levels.

We hope the report encourages policy makers and organisational leaders to take stronger, more sustained actions to: increase total workforce participation; resolve gender imbalance across roles and industries; and unlock the productivity dividend women offer our economy.

1 4125.0 - Gender Indicators, Australia, Jan 2013, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013
2 Daley, J. (2012), Game-changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia. Grattan Institute, 1-77
3 The Pulse is a six-monthly survey that measures Australian workers’ views about their individual and their organisation’s productivity and the value of the work they do. It gauges the voice of more than 2,100 workers across key industries and from all levels in both the private and public sector.