Women on the verge of recession
Author: Elizabeth Broderick
Publication: The Ruby Connection (Wednesday, 18 March 2009)
We are in economic times that the world has never seen before. Much has been said about the prospect of massive retrenchments and unemployment. Much has been said about ways in which we might work to minimise job losses. Much has been said about the sectors from which these job losses will come. But not much has been said about what this downturn will mean for women.
It seems a fitting time to consider that issue.
Since the mid 1980s, the proportion of women who have entered the Australian workforce has risen from 48% to 58% – a significant increase by anyone’s account.
At the same time, women make up the majority of the casual and part-time workforce.
In a downturn, the easiest (not the smartest) way for businesses to downsize and cut costs is to let its part-time and casual staff go, as well as those who are working flexibly, or differently. And in a great many situations, let’s face it, this primarily means women.
This approach is already a worldwide trend. For example, in Britain, women are already being retrenched at twice the rate of men.
In today’s world, such a trend would have grave social repercussions.
Pay packets brought home by women are essential to the survival of most families. For example, in Britain, around one third of family incomes are from the wages earned by women, for 1 in 5 couples women’s earnings make up over half the family income - and sole parents, 90% of whom are women, make up a quarter of all families. Australia is not dissimilar. Women’s incomes around Australia are used for paying rent, bills, groceries, petrol, trips to the dentist and schooling costs. These are not expendable discretionary items.
However, over the last 20 years, women’s increasing presence in the workforce has been one of the key contributors to economic growth and development in Australia, and around the world.
In fact, research has shown that the increase in female employment in the world’s richer countries has been the main driving force behind growth in the past couple of decades. The women in these countries have contributed more to global growth than either new technologies or the new giants of China and India.
So it seems clear that women are a significant player in the solution to the economic crisis.
It is clear that we need to keep women in the workforce. And not just for women themselves, but for the good of our society and the economy.
We are all vulnerable if Governments and business depart from initiatives which are designed to increase women’s participation in the workforce
It is also clear that structures that will support employees to balance paid work with caring responsibilities must be put in place.
To this end, paid parental leave and flexible work arrangements are the sort of policies that provide this vital support to both women and men. They are policies that enhance the ability of people to balance their paid work with their caring responsibilities.
These are not radical economic and social solutions. They are smart. Today, we remain one of only two OECD countries that do not have a paid maternity leave scheme.
Much has been said about using economic stimulus packages and investment in infrastructure projects to stave off the worst of the global recession. But the solution is not simply more roads, more railways and more buildings. We also need to invest in good, strong social infrastructure if we are to rebuild a strong and resilient economy. We need to invest in and support our workforce. And women are most definitely a crucial part of that solution.