Are women working in the right industries?

The role of women in unlocking Australia’s productivity potential

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Women are currently under-represented in Australia’s highest paying growth industries. Encouraging women to gain qualifications for these sectors would both increase female earnings and help to ease skill shortages. Often women do have qualifications for these sectors, such as business and commerce, but they are still choosing lower paid industries, where more flexible work is available.

The structural requirements of Australia’s economy are changing, with more jobs for skilled employees12 and more jobs being generated in the following top five industries and occupations.

Over the past five years, jobs requiring a bachelor degree or higher qualification have grown by 15.9% or 446,300 jobs. In contrast, jobs with certificate I or compulsory secondary education requirements have only grown by 2.4% or 45,000 jobs13.

This appears to be good news for female workforce participation, given women’s strong higher education results. However, women are largely qualifying for careers in the relatively lower-paid industries of health and social assistance, as well as education, where part-time work is plentiful. They are also concentrated in lower-paid occupations, such as: service workers, clerical, administrative roles and sales workers.

Industry representation by gender

Occupation by gender

EY - Industry representation by gender EY - Occupation by gender
Source: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011 Census Source: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011 Census
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Industry representation by gender and Occupation by gender

EY - Industry representation by gender and Occupation by gender

By contrast, women remain under-represented in engineering and IT qualifications. As a result, Australia’s higher paid industries, especially mining and technical services, remain male-dominated. Given the skill shortages in these sectors, we must do more to boost the number of women choosing qualifications that feed into technical jobs.

To this point, many businesses and industry associations already have programs to encourage young women into technical careers — the ‘push’ factor. What’s missing is the ‘pull’. The perception is that such industries lack flexible work practices and make career progression conditional on full-time employment. If we are to get more women into higher paying industries, businesses in these sectors need to profile successful women, promote their flexible work practices and work on their image as an employer of choice for women.

The role of government

Government also has a role to play in enabling women to confidently seek careers in more technical industries. If child care was affordable, this would open more possibilities for women with pre-school children to return to full-time work.

Then, when choosing qualifications, women could at least see a path that would enable them to combine a career in a highly paid sector with having a family.

Clearly, affordable child care would boost participation across all industries. As the price of child care increases, the number of hours that women are in paid employment decreases13. Despite recent government intervention to rectify this situation through the introduction of the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate, many women continue to struggle with the cost of child care as demonstrated in the following scenario14:

For a couple each earning $70,000 per annum with two children in child care:

  • The female would take home only $284 per week which equates to 37% of her gross income, from the first three days of work
  • In the fourth and fifth days, take-home pay after factoring the cost of child care, the child care rebate, tax and family benefits, would be $57 which equates to only 10% of gross income.

This problem becomes much more severe at lower levels of income.

12 Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2012, Australian Jobs 2012
13 Jeremenko, J. (2012), Give childcare a tax break, The Australian Financial Review, 1-2.
14 Daley, J. (2012), Game-changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia. Grattan Institute, 1-77.