Female equality falling short, HESTA says in pulse check of discrimination and inequality
In a report released last week outlining the challenges experienced by HESTA’s 840,000 members – 80 per cent of whom are women working in the health and community services sector – the organisation found that “persisting discrimination and inequality in work and pay is leaving women with greater financial vulnerability throughout their lives”.
The Vital Signs report was dubbed by HESTA as “a pulse check of the state of equality for women in Australia”.
Speaking about the findings HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said policy change was urgently needed, outlining the unique set of challenges women face, and noting that the existing super system ”does not recognise the specific needs of more than half the population”.
“While it’s pleasing to see some improvement in the gender pay gap, it’s unacceptable that the gap is still 14 per cent for full-time work. If they continue to experience this ongoing pay discrimination, the trend of women having inadequate savings in retirement will only worsen,” Ms Blakey said.
Women can be financially disadvantaged, retiring with, on average, 40 per cent less super than men, because of unpaid time out of the workforce to start a family or care for others.
“We need to ensure the design of our super system is fairer for women instead of being modelled on a typical male pattern of continuous, full-time work that is increasingly not the norm for many Australians,” Ms Blakey said.
She said such changes in the policy space would represent “a fundamental step to ensuring greater adequacy” calling for the super guarantee to be lifted to 12 per cent, “as this is a legislated promise of additional retirement income all Australians have a right to expect and is crucial to boosting women’s long-term retirement savings.”
The report provides a snapshot looking at work, income, education, and employment for women in Australia. Ms Blakey noted that women working in sectors such as early childhood education and care (ECEC) often work in part time or casual roles, and are often lower paid. This, she said, perpetuates the gender pay gap, ultimately leaving women with less money in superannuation.
Women over 55 years of age are the fastest-growing category of homeless persons in Australia – a shocking indicator of growing inequality, Ms Blakey noted, saying that on average, women carry a balance of $39,000 into retirement, with around one-third of women aged over 15 having no super.
The Vital Signs statistical portrait was developed with the assistance of Dr Jim Stanford, Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work. Women, Dr Stanford said “face overlapping barriers to their full participation in work and society. It’s well past time we better valued and supported their contributions”.
The full report can be accessed here.