Last week on Tuesday (8-March) was International Women’s Day (IWD), a global holiday (that isn’t a public holiday in Australia) to celebrate and commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women (IWD.com).
The day looms large in my calendar as it is a strong kick in the ribs to reflect upon the progress that we – referring to society – are making in levelling the playing field to provide equality of life for all Australians, regardless of gender.
The key thing in my mind is that while IWD is a focus, it’s only one day, and pontificating about inequality one day a year is not enough, it requires consistent action and attention.
All. Year. Round.
From a Macro-economic Standpoint
Starting from a top-down, macro-economic point of view, the current economic environment is challenging – though no excuse not to enact required reform – where supply side economic issues are front-and-centre.
Supply side economics are considered the sole realm of fiscal policy and managed at an industry and company level, as opposed to monetary policy level which tends to be more demand-side impactful.
Hence, there is an opportunity for fiscal policy, and a business’s internal policy to bring about initiatives aimed to support women’s economic opportunity – not just because it’s right (and that alone should be enough) – but with the added bonus that it benefits Australia’s overall economic growth as well.
Reform in this environment doesn’t threaten incomes, it’s actually about boosting them further, allowing the economy to meet economic demand.
And in our view, challenging gender inequality may be Australia’s best supply-side reform that can be proposed.
Australia is currently ranked 50th in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index, where the category of “economic participation and opportunity” has seen a steep drop-off since the onset of the pandemic, and we’re now further away from equality than we were pre-pandemic.
A stat to make your blood boil: at our current rate of progress, it’ll take 135.6 years to close the gender gap, which has increased from 99.5 years pre-pandemic.
Seriously, we’re more than a century away.
This makes me remember the incredibly strong line from The Great Debaters (2007) when Samantha Booke questions:
“Well, would you kindly tell me when is that day going to come? Is it going to come tomorrow? Is it going to come next week? In a hundred years? Never?! No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality, is always — is always — right now!”
Our female population accounts for >50% of Australia’s total population, but overall has lower workforce participation than men, earn less per hour than men, and works fewer hours than men (per the same job industry).
This dynamic has been exacerbated by the pandemic, where we’re all aware across the developed world that has been a large move from the Baby Boomer generation to retirement, which has seen many nation’s age dependency ratios inflect.
Specifically, our prime working age (15-64-year olds) population was 55.1% of total population in 2009 and in Q4 2021 is 47.8%.
This means that there’s less working age population to pay taxes, but also means there’s less people proportionally available to care for the elderly as well.
Hint: there’s a sizeable skew towards women working in aged care compared to men, and aged care and nursing is generally a lower paying job than most other industry averages.
However, Australia did retain first place in the world for educational attainment, suggesting that talent is not what’s missing.
What’s remained a large factor of this inequality has been the social costs of having children, often where women are less likely to return to the workforce after having children, disproportionate to men.
Relevant to this line of thinking is a well-examined Danish study, that showed there was “almost no difference” in the impact of earnings (participation rates, hours worked, wages) when comparing biological parents against adoptive parents – going to show that the act of physically delivering a child was not likely the impediment for women returning to the workforce, and likely it was a cultural issue of women being the primary caregiver for years post-gestation.
I went into much more detail when detailing pandemic-response policies impact on gender equality last year, but it bears repeating that better female representation in government decision-making processes during the pandemic would’ve likely (I’m being nice, it most definitely would have) helped economic and social outcomes.
The United Nation’s 2020 Global Gender Response Tracker reported that women were only 24% of COVID-19 task forces globally, and in the 206 countries analysed, 20% of those countries had not put in place any specific measures to assist women, though disproportionately affected.
A study I was waiting on last year but wasn’t yet published was the World Bank and UNICEF joint report that attempted to gauge the lifetime earnings that current students would lose due to lower education outcomes as a result of the pandemic.
The result is that globally, students are at risk of losing 17 trillion USD (at present value) of lifetime earnings, equivalent to 14% of today’s global GDP.
The report also highlights that the share of children living in “Learning Poverty” – already 53% before the pandemic – would increase to 70% of all children, due to long-term school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.
A study by the Melbourne Institute (part of University of Melbourne) published in January 2022 analysed our national labour force data and found that 8% of women lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic compared to just 4% of men.
However, the report specific to study mental health as a result of employment status found that 37% of men whose partners were jobless reported mental health distress, compared to 27% of men with partners who remained employed.
A report by World Bank “Changing Wealth of Nations 2021” highlighted that we need to view the world differently, and think of human capital instead of just economic capital.
Most traditional, economic capital places a focus on quarterly economic output and prioritising shorter-term high-growth ambitions, and a lot of emphasis on non-renewable commodity exports to boost GDP.
“Globally, women accounted for only 37% of human capital in 2018, which was 2 percentage points greater than the 1995 level,” which again, contrasts why it’s forecast to take over 100 years for us to reach gender parity at the current rate of change.
Globally, we’re seeing greater disclosure from companies being helped by a push from ESG-linked investors.
For example, I can use my Bloomberg terminal and pull up ~1400 different datapoints/fields associated with most ASX (or global) listed companies, and then drill into their “Social” disclosures.
For example, NAB (ASX: NAB) show that women account for 36% of “Management” positions at the bank, which is an improvement, but still has them lagging their peers.
Source: Bloomberg, as at 11/March/2021
Given this type of information is now public domain, there’s also a growing following of transparency that can highlight companies doing something about gender inequality, juxtaposed against those not doing anything.
As background, IWD tends to see a litany of social media posts by companies who are espousing gender inequality reforms, and there’s Twitter bots that take these posts and then automatically state what the gender imbalance is at that company.
It’s quite a novel and blunt way to show which company is virtue signalling or not.
Source: Twitter, 11/March/2022
As opposed to:
Source: Twitter, 11/March/2022
Gender Equality is one of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), considered a fundamental human right, but also a necessary condition for peaceful, prosperous and a sustainable world.
The UN lists five priority areas for reform:
1/ Gender-based violence, including mitigating domestic violence
2/ Social protection and economic stimulus targeting women and girls
3/ Support for equal sharing of care (for others), i.e. assisting men to take greater responsibility for care of children or elderly parents
4/ Greater female participation in government decision making
5/ Data and coordination mechanisms including gender perspectives.
On this last point, we used to be a world leader in this regard, having adopted a “gender lens” into our government policy initiatives and Budget process.
Unfortunately, this was watered down dramatically in 2014 and discarded in many Budgets since.
Going forward, there’s lots we can do to address the above focuses, between Federal, state and local government, but also through private enterprise.
For more reading on the subject, or if you’re looking to make contact with various organisations that provide assistance to gender inequality worldwide, https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Partners, provides a large list of companies and charities that support IWD.
There are also several strategic initiatives available for those looking to do more, such as:
Lean In – providing tools to build more gender equal workplaces
Where Women Work – educational exposure showcasing inspiring women
Puffin Schools – providing young readers new feminist icons, where female heroines have previously not been as well published
Remembering that by ourselves we are but one drop, but together, we are an ocean. (IWD Slogan 2022)
The views expressed in this article are the views of the stated author as at the date published and are subject to change based on markets and other conditions. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Mason Stevens is only providing general advice in providing this information. You should consider this information, along with all your other investments and strategies when assessing the appropriateness of the information to your individual circumstances. Mason Stevens and its associates and their respective directors and other staff each declare that they may hold interests in securities and/or earn fees or other benefits from transactions arising as a result of information contained in this article.