Worst performing OECD country for women at work? Take a bow Australia

Australia has dropped six places to 15th position – the largest drop out of the 27 OECD countries measured – in the PwC Women in Work Index that ranks female economic empowerment. Read it and weep.

“It’s a bit depressing. No one is going to be pleased with these numbers,” Global head of PwC’s People Business Jon Williams told Women’s Agenda. “I’m surprised by the extent of the movement in one year but I’m not surprised by where we sit. There has been plenty of surface attention around this issue in Australia but have we taken significant action to properly fix it? No.”

In previous years Australia ranked 8th and 9th and outperformed the average but, after the worst performance of the 27 countries surveyed, now sits at the OECD average overall.  This drop is largely explained by the widening gender pay gap in Australia, which moved from 14% in 2012 to 18% in 2013, and a small increase in female unemployment. The PwC WIW Index is a weighted average of measures including equality of earnings, the ability of women to access employment opportunities and job security.

Female boardroom membership increased across the OECD by around 4 percentage points between 2013 and 2014, with the largest increases observed in countries with specific targets for female board membership. Female boardroom membership in Australia increased by around 3 percentage points since 2013. Despite that good news, the gender pay gap is proving to be “an intractable problem” for Australian business.  It is a challenge which Williams says cannot be addressed overnight.

“If I’m honest it is hard to put a single finger on why we have dropped so far in one year,” Williams says.

Gender equality in the workplace is a complex issue that requires an understanding of many levers including recruitment, retention, promotion, remuneration, and workplace policies and requires leadership. There is no “single fixable thing”.

Williams says countries like Denmark and Norway, that once again take out the top two spots in the WIW index, prove as much.

“Those Northern European countries are ranked highly because they have been doing this for years,” he says.

“Norway didn’t fix it in two years, they fixed it with measured action and cultural change for decades. Those places are better than us not because of any single short-term solution – they have taken a long term approach.”

A short-term view adopted by business or government will only hamper progress.

“The Federal Government has acknowledged that gender reporting is critical to drive cultural change, however last week it announced that there would be reductions in the expected reporting requirements,” Williams said.

“The gender disparity is actually a burden on business too. Moving a red tape burden to not alleviate an actual burden is short sighted in my view.” 

Cutting back on reporting will mean there is less information available to analyse why this disparity persists.

“In the Financial and Insurance Services industry, the latest WGEA data showed the 28.4 per cent gender gap in base remuneration blew out to 36.1 per cent when variable components, such as a bonus, were added to get to total remuneration,” Williams said. “Components of total remuneration, like bonus and equity awards, were to be separately reported on in 2015 – 16, but are now not required under the Governments changes.”

What gets measured gets done and, as these results demonstrate, Australia has a lot to do.

“Without detailed information like this, some of these levers get forgotten or hidden,” Williams says. “Business and government leaders must continue to lead cultural change or we will further slip down the rankings.”

Slipping further down the rankings? There’s a scary thought. Is it possible Australia has already slipped so far down the ranks because there has been no cultural change led from government leaders? Is the Minister for Women available for comment?

Georgina Dent

Georgina Dent is a former editor of Women's Agenda, she is also an editor, journalist and former lawyer. 

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