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Female participation in the workforce

Theories on the reasons for the levels of female participation in the workforce range from lack of suitable opportunities to direct discrimination but what do the statistics say?

Caring for children remains the largest barrier to female participation in the labour force, according to data released on 22 November 2022 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

In 2020-21, there were 2.8 million people who did not work full-time and who either wanted a job (1.7 million people) or were working part-time and wanted to increase their working hours (1.1 million people).

While most of these people were also available for work, around one in seven (14 per cent) or 385,700 people were not available to work or work more hours within four weeks. Around two-thirds of these people were women (65 per cent or 250,000 people).

Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS, said: “In 2020-21, there were 250,000 women who wanted a job or to work more hours but were unavailable, of whom 61,600 (25 per cent) indicated that caring for children was the main barrier. It was highest for women with children under 15, with more than half (56 per cent) reporting this as their main barrier to work or working more hours.”

“For men, the main barrier to participation continued to be long-term sickness or disability (35 per cent).”

In addition to information on barriers, the ABS also released information on incentives that would influence people to join or increase their participation in the labour force.

“For women, the most important incentive to work or work more hours was the ability to work part-time hours (49 per cent), while for men it was finding a job that matched their skills and experience (43 per cent),” Mr Jarvis said.

“Almost two out of every three women with children under 15 (65 per cent) indicated that the most important incentive to return to work or work more hours would be the ability to work part-time, followed by the ability to work during school hours (61 per cent). If this and other important conditions were met, 42 per cent of them would likely accept a suitable job as soon as possible,” Mr Jarvis said.

“While female participation in the labour force is at record high levels, this data shows that childcare remains the key for increasing the opportunities for women to participate in the labour market,” Mr Jarvis said.

There’s little doubt a myriad of factors influence female participation in the workforce. There’s also little argument that by creating barriers to female participation, we also hold back our own business success. How so? Customer reflection for a start: companies that only hire men – whether it be in leadership roles or general employee positions – demonstrate to their customers they are only concerned about male well-being. This sits poorly with clients and cuts out roughly 50 percent of potential customers.

While Bare Bones Consulting can do a lot of things, creating affordable childcare options isn’t one. What we can do however is how you simple and effective ways to close gender gaps in your workplace and why you should try it. Good starting points can include raising awareness of existing inequalities, offering flexible working arrangements, equal training opportunities for women and a focus on well-being and mental health. Stronger business success, greater employee engagement, respect in the industry, access to a deeper talent pool…why wouldn’t you give it a shot?

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Note: Bare Bones Consulting provides HR services for employers. Employees seeking advice on workplace concerns should contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.