Gender equality and its impact on women's super

Gender equality is an issue that’s gaining attention. However, there are still many barriers to achieving a gender equal society, and this is negatively impacting women’s super and their futures. So, what’s being done and what does the future look like for women? We spoke to the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC) to find out.

It’s well documented that, on average, women earn less than men, shoulder more unpaid carers work, and end up with 42% less super in retirement1. On top of that, research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to widen the gender gap. It’s reported that over 1 million women applied for the Government’s early access super scheme, totaling $8.5 billion in super payouts2.

 

Are things moving too slowly?

Coral Ross, Chair of the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC) says one of her greatest concerns in 2021 is that the speed of change toward a gender equal society is too slow.

To achieve momentum in gender equality we must teach it.

Key gender equality statistics

  • 1 in 2 women are discriminated against at work for being mothers3.
  • Only 5% of our top businesses are run by women3.
  • Women make up half of the population and half of the workforce but earn $241.50 a week less than men.
  • Much of the additional unpaid caring responsibilities created by the pandemic is shouldered by women4.
  • Women are 1.8 times more likely to lose their job amid the COVID-19 pandemic than men because of an increase in caring responsibilities5.

The AGEC manifesto focuses on 12 key issues, and Ross says one of its major focus areas is changing societal norms. 

A report commissioned by the AGEC, HandsUp for Gender Equality, found while confidence and ambition levels were similar among high-school-age boys and girls, their career preferences were diametrically opposed. ‘Young women were interested in caring, helping, supporting type careers, and the boys were thinking about building, designing and growing,’ says Ross.

‘If we’re expecting to have 50% female CEOs and 50% women in mining and engineering, then we need to be starting earlier to challenge societal norms in high school, primary school and even kindergarten,’ says Ross. ‘If we want girls to work in aviation for example, they need to know they can be a pilot.’

If we’re expecting to have 50% female CEOs and 50% women in mining and engineering, then we need to be challenge societal norms from school age.

How the gender pay gap affects salaries and super

Gender inequality creates a complex web of issues throughout a woman’s life. According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the base salary gender pay gap in Australia has hovered between 14% and 19% for 2 decades – it’s currently at 15.5%, and 20.8% for total remuneration. Ross says one of the issues is many female dominated industries and jobs, like childcare for example, attract lower wages than traditionally masculine roles.

She also says the private sector’s lack of pay transparency means the pay range of staff in similar roles can vary dramatically, and some employers call it performance pay rather than a pay gap. ‘I think if we had a more accepted business practice that pay is not a secret, like we do with CEOs of listed companies, then employers and employees could have an open debate about their pay,’ says Ross.

Another one of the biggest impacts is having children or working reduced hours to care for family. Common occurrences that we see in our friends, families and co-workers. These social and cultural norms have a negative effect on retirement balances. Less work equals less super, and this means on average 42% less super than men – almost half as much to live on in retirement.

 

AustralianSuper is working to help re-balance super outcomes for women

In 2018, the Fund researched women’s retirement outcomes and found that the super system needs updating to impact real change. The Future Face of Poverty is Female report, carried out by AustralianSuper and Monash University, showed that time out of the workforce and part-time work – to prioritise caring for children – were key reasons many women are vulnerable to financial instability.

The growing number of women facing superannuation poverty is something which AustralianSuper is concerned about and is working hard to address. ‘The fact that so many women are retiring with far less super than men is a real issue because its led to a growing number of older women are homeless and can’t afford to retire with dignity,’ says AustralianSuper executive Michelle Glover.

‘We’re working hard to financially empower women in Australia and advocate for change.’

This is done by campaigning to:

  • include superannuation guarantee (SG) payments on all income replacement payments, including paid parental leave and carers leave
  • increase mandatory super contributions from 9.5% to 12% by 2025 as currently legislated
  • abolish the $450 a month minimum earning to receive the (SG).

This is a start and it aims to support women in growing their super over their working lives and achieve a better retirement outcome.

‘It also needs to be recognised that employers play an important role in the gender equality conversation,’ says Michelle.

Michelle encourages employers to consider paying employees at least 12% super, before it’s legislated in 2025, to help build super balances. She also advises businesses to consider offering inclusive parental leave policies, which include superannuation payments, something which will go some way to bridging the gender gap.

‘We need to support men and women to progress in their careers and/or contribute to caring roles at home,’ Glover says. ‘Remote or flexible working can start to remove some of the barriers and help address the imbalance of male and female careers. We’re starting to see that taking place but there’s a long way to go.

 

How flexible working can positively impact your super

COVID-19 has helped businesses embrace flexible working arrangements and this could positively impact your super balance over the long term.

Ross says the wholesale acceptance of working flexibly (from home), as a result of the pandemic, has in some ways helped women who are trying to juggle primary carer responsibilities with work. ‘It also has the potential to encourage more men to work from home and take on more caring responsibilities,’ says Ross.

Employers play an important role in enabling men and women equal access to career and caring opportunities and paying super during carers and paternal leave.

According to the AHRC, 95% of primary parental leave (outside of the public sector) is taken by women who also spend almost 3 times longer caring for children than men. The same research shows men want to be more actively involved in raising children, but they’re more likely to have parental leave requests denied.

 

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR SUPER

 

Responsible investing drives gender equality

As well as advocating for better conditions for working Australians, AustralianSuper tackles gender diversity at a board and ASX level. It’s proven that organisations that are gender diverse at their board and senior management levels outperform those that aren’t. We hold the organisations we invest in accountable in this space, by ensuring they’re taking actions towards improving gender equality in their companies at board and senior management levels.

To date, we have worked with 200 ASX listed companies to ensure at least one woman is on their board.


Source:

  1. Achieving economic security for women in retirement
  2. ATO.gov.au - Covid19 early release of super
  3. Source: Statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
  4. Gendered impact of COVID-19
  5. COVID-19 and gender equality: Countering the regressive effects

This information may be general financial advice which doesn’t take into account your personal objectives, situation or needs.  Before making a decision about AustralianSuper, you should think about your financial requirements and refer to the relevant Product Disclosure Statement. AustralianSuper Pty Ltd ABN 94 006 457 987, AFSL 233788, Trustee of AustralianSuper ABN 65 714 394 898. 



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