The Financy Women’s Index, which tracks the economic progress of Australian women on a quarterly basis, has posted its best performance of 2019 in the December quarter after rising by 0.9% to a high of 119.9 points from 118.8 points in September.
The rise was helped by fresh records which were broken with the number of women on ASX 200 boards, female tertiary education enrolments, full-time and part-time employment numbers, as well as the participation and underemployment rates.
Among the specific standout signs of progress for women in 2019 was data showing the greatest level of engagement among Australian women in the full-time workforce as over the past 12 months the female participation rate increased to 61.2% from 60.52% in December 2018.
However, the pace of progress declined by more than half of what was achieved in prior years since the Index improved by 1.7% (or two points) in the 12 months to December 31, which made 2019 the fifth slowest year for progress this decade.
At the same time, the female underemployment rate declined year-on-year to 10.4% but it was still higher than where it was a decade ago.
The December quarter turned out to be a major victory for women on the boards of listed companies with female directors now occupying 30.7% of ASX 200 board positions.
“The latest Financy Women's Index reflects a strong quarter particularly for women on boards. We need to reflect on the goals set to date and be even more ambitious for the decade to come. The need to push for a more diverse, fair working environment for all has never been more important,” Onevue’s chief executive, Connie McKeage, said.
In the past months women continued to outnumber men in tertiary education studies however the gender balance in fields linked to higher pay outcomes remained disproportionate in favour of men, according to the index. And despite record tertiary enrolment growth for females in 2019, in areas such as engineering and related technologies, architecture and building and information technology (IT), women were still underrepresented and, in some cases, by as much as two to seven.
When it came to the gender gap in unpaid work for couples, regardless of whether they had children, fell to a new low of 60 % in the latest 2018 data.
Although the unpaid work data from the yet to be published 2018 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found that while the gender gap in unpaid work for couples narrowed, the imbalance remained significant.
In paid employment, the average wage disparity between full-time working women and men narrowed to 14.02% in 2019 from 14.53% in 2018.
The average Australian woman also had a lower superannuation balance compared to her male peers and, according to the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) Inspire community, national chair, Kate McCallum, this needs to be better addressed.
“Women still have a serious retirement shortfall, with a median balance for those nearing retirement of $122,848. This is less than a quarter the ideal amount for a comfortable retirement,” McCallum said.
“It’s even worse for divorced women, who have a median super balance of one-quarter than that of a single person household and one-sixth of couple households.”
The financial progress of women as measured by the Financy Women’s Index, is calculated by looking at the performance of women relative to men across eight areas; tertiary education, employment, workforce participation, underemployment, wages, unpaid work, ASX 200 board numbers, and superannuation.