Work and economic security

Women still face barriers to workplace equality and economic security. They want action now, with demands that governments, businesses and the not for-profit sector take equal pay seriously and create workplace cultures that embrace flexibility and better work-life balance for all.


Gender inequality hurts the hip pocket

Victorian women currently earn only 87.8 cents for every dollar earned by Victorian men. The strongest contributors to this disparity are factors such as gender discrimination and women's greater participation in unpaid work. As a result Victorian women aged 55-64 years are more likely to have inadequate superannuation coverage compared to men, and to experience poverty.

Women are also far more likely to be in insecure work, reflecting the growing insecurity of service industry and community services sector, and the need for women to seek casual, part-time and flexible forms of work to help them balance work with parenting and caring responsibilities.

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Labour markets

Victoria’s labour markets remain divided along gender lines

Victoria’s gender gap in workforce participation sits at 14 percentage points. The strongest contributor to this gap is unpaid care, especially of children. Victorian women undertake nearly twice the amount of unpaid work and care of Victorian men, making it more difficult to remain in the workforce. Variable access to flexible working conditions, paid parental leave, poor child care options and workplace discrimination all contribute to this problem.

Single mothers, women with a disability and women from culturally diverse backgrounds face additional barriers including racism and discrimination, lack of affordable childcare, and family pressures relating to traditional gender roles.

Migrant and refugee women in particular are overrepresented in insecure work and are often overqualified for their employment positions. The importance of supporting economic participation for Aboriginal women - through education, employment opportunities and investment - is a key driver to improving workforce participation.

What works: Access to early childhood education and care

Reducing high effective tax rates and the net cost of child care can incentivise second income earners with limited financial incentives to work full time. Although estimates vary, most studies find that a 10% reduction in child care costs increases maternal employment by between 0.5 and 4%.


What works: Organisations engaging men in flexible work

  • emphasising the business case for men to engage in flexible work and broadening the definition of flexibility to encompass different models
  • creating a culture supportive of flexible work for men
  • developing and publicising senior male role models of flexible work - to send the message that flexibility is practiced at all levels
  • using fatherhood to reduce gender differences in accessing flexible work, and encouraging a long-term approach beyond parental leave


Women continue to be underrepresented in industries such as finance, construction, utilities, science and technical services

A failure to attract and skill women for careers in these industries has a twofold negative economic impact: a loss of productivity gains, by not drawing on the skills and capabilities of a large sector of the labour force; and further entrenching occupational segregation, with potential to widen the gender pay gap and reduce economic security for women and their families.

Sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and workplace violence

Sexism, sexual harassment, bullying and workplace violence are common

62% of working women are likely to face workplace violence over a five year period. 25% of women aged 15 years or older have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years. Casual sexism is also prevalent in the workplace, and importantly while many workforces turn a blind eye, these frequent, less intensive behaviours are just as harmful as single instances of sexual coercion or unwanted sexual attention.


More women are becoming entrepreneurs

Over the last two decades, the number of female-run small businesses has increased by nearly 50%, almost double the rate of male-run small businesses. Women entering the start-up and innovation sectors is also growing. Promoting entrepreneurship is a key avenue for women to enter the workforce, particularly for newly arrived migrants and refugees (almost a third of female business operators are born overseas), women in rural and regional areas (just under a third of female small business operators live in regional areas) and women with disabilities (12% of women employers and sole operators had a disability).

What works: Gender audits in workplaces

Good practice workplaces are now undertaking gender audits – covering their culture, leadership, policies, practices and systems. Audits are used to identify and disrupt harmful workplace cultures, encourage participative forms of leadership and shift the structures and systems that produce inequality. This includes countering unconscious bias in recruitment and promotion, setting targets for women’s representation, encouraging male advocacy in the workplace, and supporting men out of the paid workforce with flexible working conditions and parental leave. They are also establishing zero tolerance policies and educating work about the harmful impacts of sexism.


What works: Financial literacy and confidence

Sound financial literacy is an asset that can help reduce gendered economic inequality. It is particularly useful when life circumstances change – like starting a career, changing jobs, getting divorced, or retiring. And it is most needed by women – who tend to live longer and earn less than men, are more likely to face financial hardship as they age, and in general have lower levels of financial literacy. Financial literacy needs to start early and continue throughout life, with good practice suggesting:

  • early access to financial literacy education at school
  • a role for workplaces in facilitating access to advice for those with low superannuation balances
  • the need to tailor financial literacy programs to the unique needs of different groups of women

Early actions

  • raise awareness of economic insecurity and the challenges of balancing work and family for working women
  • direct WorkSafe to examine how gendered violence in the workplace can be addressed by facilitating training of Health and Safety Representatives in gender equality
  • promote women’s entrepreneurialism and innovation by working with investors to support female entrepreneurs
  • host the first all women international trade delegation to China in 2017
  • support women in small business through:
  • leveraging the annual Small Business Festival to promote, connect and strengthen women’s small businesses with a dedicated week of activity
  • enhancing opportunities for women through existing Small Business Packages
  • request the Victorian Aboriginal Economic Board to consider specific issues facing Aboriginal women in business and advising on strategies in conjunction with the delivery of the Victorian Aboriginal Business Strategy
  • foster support for Aboriginal women to have financial security, including through funding to Victorian Aboriginal women’s organisations supporting educational and employment pathways
  • foster support for women from migrant and refugee backgrounds to have financial security, including by examining underemployment, insecure work, opportunities for improved education and employment pathways, and financial management training
  • explore opportunities for joint Commonwealth/State pilot programs to support key cohorts, such as single parents returning to the workforce and older women who are unemployed