Equitable Flexibility in Australia: Reshaping Our Workforce

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks global companies and their gender performance against four key dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In the 2021 rankings, Australia slipped in every major dimension but one: the educational attainment of women.

Even though Australia ranks first globally for educational attainment, its ranking for women’s economic participation and opportunity continues to fall. Australia ranked 18th in economic participation and opportunity in 2011 but is 70th today. In 2011, Australia ranked 23rd on the Global Gender Gap Index overall but sits in 50th place today.

Domestically focused studies also find statistics underpinning those global rankings. In the 2020 Chief Executive Women Census, 5% of ASX200 companies had women CEOs, and women held only about 15% of the pipeline roles to CEO (i.e., line and CFO roles). In 2021, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found a 13.4% difference between men and women’s average weekly earnings. When additional compensation is accounted for, such as superannuation and bonuses, the full-time total remuneration gender pay gap is 20.1%.

The numbers and their message are clear: Australia’s gender gap is widening. Urgent and critical change is needed to equalise gender participation and advancement in the workforce.

Conversely, the workforce critically needs women. The pandemic distressed businesses across Australia, and recovery requires all hands on deck—men and women. The pandemic also unlocked a key lever that affects women’s participation in the workforce: flexibility.

Covid-19 fundamentally changed the way organisations operated. It challenged how companies viewed flexible work, because the need for flexibility affected every worker, regardless of rank, job role, or gender. The pandemic created urgency and accelerated critical changes surrounding flexible work. Now, crucial pieces are lining up to normalise flexibility.

As many organisations redefine what’s ‘normal’ in the workplace, this research can help companies understand—and plan for—what happens next. We surveyed employees and interviewed employers across Australia to understand their sentiments, perceptions, and desires pertaining to flexible work since the pandemic. Based on the findings, we offer fundamental questions for leaders and tactics to increase equitable flexibility. Our research also outlines a powerful economic argument: Unlocking purposefully designed flexibility is a strong economic imperative.

In our interviews, we learned how Australia’s top companies are leveraging Covid-19 as a ‘culture accelerator.’ If we all seize this opportunity, we can create more flexible, equitable, and resilient organisations, and a stronger, more prosperous economy.

About Chief Executive Women

Founded in 1985, Chief Executive Women now represents over 650 of Australia’s most senior and distinguished women leaders across business, academia, government, the arts, and not-for-profit sectors. Its shared mission is 'women leaders enabling other women leaders.' CEW strives to educate and influence all levels of Australian business and government on the importance of gender balance. Through advocacy, targeted programs, and scholarships, CEW works to remove the barriers to women’s progression and ensure equal opportunity for prosperity. CEW’s members work actively to realise its vision of a community where women and men have equal economic and social choices and responsibilities.

This report was supported by ANZ, thought leadership partner of Chief Executive Women.


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