Jobs Summit seeks to unlock women’s workforce participation

An early instalment of Thursday’s Jobs Summit was a keynote speech from Danielle Wood, co-founder and first chair of the Women in Economics Network and CEO at the Grattan Institute. Among other things, Wood pointed out the importance of education at all stages, to help break down gender barriers and to increase participation from women.

“Australia has some of the highest levels for education for women in the world but we currently rank 38th in the world for women’s economic opportunities,” she said.

One of the core priorities for securing economic prosperity in the future, she said, was making better use of Australia’s available talent pool. Increasing women’s participation in the workforce poses massive potential, Wood said, a sentiment echoed throughout day one.

“I can’t help reflect that if untapped women’s workforce participation was a massive iron ore deposit, we would have governments falling over themselves to give subsidies to get it out of the ground.”

Education and childcares are major barriers here.

“Women are often excluded from full time work and from the most prestigious and high paid roles,” Wood said.

“Because these so called ‘greedy jobs’ are incompatible with the load of unpaid are still disproportionately shouldered by women.

“High quality, low cost, early education care is necessary to unlock participation from women who would like to work more but are sidelined by substantial cost hurdles. Our work shows this is one of the biggest economic levers that governments have.”

Wood welcomed the federal government’s commitment to making early learning and care more affordable and steps towards universal low cost care. State government moves to support kindergartens and tackle childcare deserts were also lauded, but Wood pointed out generational changes to participation will only occur if men are encouraged to take part in unpaid care.

Wood said business is currently leading the charge for societal change when it comes to better parental leave. Generous and gender-equal leave, she says, are an important catalyst for change. She said the government’s paid parental leave scheme will need to evolve.

While welcoming the ‘Equal opportunities and pay for women’ panel, Minister for Finance, Women and Public Service Senator Katy Gallagher said. “as a country we simply can’t afford to leave women’s talent on the shelf. If women’s workforce participation matched men we would increase GDP by 8.7% or $353 billion by 2050″.

Childcare was rarely far from the conversation on day one. SafetyCulture CEO Luke Anear called additional childcare investment from government a “no brainer”. Georgie Dent, executive director of The Parenthood went further still, calling the lack of childcare access in this country “economic insanity.”

According to Dan Andrews, the 26,000 women locked out of the workforce in Victoria cost the state economy $1.5 billion a year. He said better childhood education, dealing with childcare ‘deserts’, childcare represent the biggest economic opportunity for Australia right now.

Independent Zoe Daniel called for new legislation to include a gender impact statement and for the Albanese government’s childcare measures to be brought forward, Campbell Kwan reports in AFR. Daniel also proposed for amendments to the fair work act to be amended, to help employees seek flexible working arrangements, saying “flexibility is key”.

“Childcare must cater for all women,” Daniel said. “Many can’t access childcare due to irregular short shifts, and these women have no agency to change that.”

She went on to propose ‘roster justice’: “That government, business and unions reach agreement to ensure that major employers upgrade rostering so that part time and casual workers know their hours with reasonable notice. No woman should be left behind.”

Photo by Michael on Unsplash

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