Victorian Chamber survey highlights female workforce support urgency

14 June 2022

A growing need for female representation and leadership has rightly garnered the spotlight in Australia, most recently evidenced by the outcomes of the 2022 Federal Election. And, according to a recent Victorian Chamber survey, the appetite for change is as compelling in business as it is in politics.

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The Victorian Chamber recently conducted a Female Participation in the Workforce Survey, which asked a range of questions to gain insights about the female workforce, especially around barriers to success and what’s needed to support women in business. We received 1,145 responses, which is among our strongest survey reply rate and even more evidence that this is an issue that our members feel passionately about.

Barriers to success

Of the respondents, 68 per cent came from Metropolitan Victoria, with 27 per cent from Regional Victoria. Around 69 per cent of respondents worked full-time, 14 per cent part-time, with 16 per cent self-employed. More than a third of responses were from large organisations of 100-plus employees. Their insights shed light on the issues that impact their workforce participation.

In particular, the survey revealed the extent of unpaid work in a woman’s life as challenging their professional development.

Up to 55 per cent of respondents spend up to seven hours a week on unpaid work related to their employment, which becomes more prevalent as the business size increases.

Nearly half the respondents also juggle significant home responsibilities, spending more than 12 hours per week of unpaid work related to their private life (29 per cent spend more than 20-plus hours per week, with another 20 per cent spending 12-15 hours).

Other barriers included a lack of access to expertise in many areas, predominantly around finance and media and communications (17 per cent each), human resources (16 per cent) and career counselling (15 per cent).

Staff retention was also seen as an impediment, with 63 per cent of respondents believing that sourcing or retaining staff was an impediment to the growth and/or success of their business, which becomes more of an issue in the larger-sized businesses.

Context

The Victorian Chamber’s survey echoes broader studies highlighting poor outcomes around female participation in the workforce.

The Australian Intergenerational Report 2021 provides stark evidence of the need for vastly increased workforce participation. In 1981-82, for every person aged over 65, there were 6.6 working-age people. In 2019-20, for every person aged over 65, there were 4.0 working-age people.

Despite this, Australian women aged 25-54 participate 10 per cent less in full time work than the OECD average.

Women are also engaging in more unpaid work than men. The Australian Bureau of Statistics highlights that a quarter of women spend more than 10 hours a week doing unpaid housework compared to just eight per cent of men.

After the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, women in the Australian workforce decreased by 0.6 per cent while other countries such as the UK grew their female workforce.

To compound this, for the previous 40-year period, while absolute participation has increased, full-time participation has remained largely static. Currently 59 per cent of Australian women work part-time.

And, for those employed, job satisfaction is also low. According to Deloitte, women are more likely to be looking for a new role than they were a year ago, and burnout is the top driving factor: nearly 40 per cent of women actively looking for a new employer cited it as the main reason. For those who had already left an employer since the start of the pandemic, “lack of opportunity to advance” was the most common reason.

This not only shows that higher participation is possible, but also signals a distinct economic disadvantage to Australia if we prove unable to activate our precious human resources.

Solutions

In the Victorian Chamber survey, diverse representation, particularly women in leadership and influential roles, was seen as essential to improve outcomes for the female workforce.

Seven out of every 10 would like to see more female leaders in positions of power. Networking was also seen as necessary to open more doors for women, with almost half of all respondents agreeing they would benefit from improved business networking opportunities with other like-minded women. Many others were open to the idea, with only six per cent indicating they would not benefit from increased networking.

Victorian Chamber Chief Executive Paul Guerra said the results were clear that change is needed to reverse recent trends for women, prompting the Chamber to take action in this space.

“The economics are clear – Australia needs to maximise our workforce participation and energising our female workforce to increase participation and to stay engaged for their whole working life is now crucial for our long-term economic planning.

“We need to establish, promote and support a mechanism to grow the number and quality of women in senior business roles in Victoria, and to aid in developing a culture and community where women feel supported and encouraged to join and remain in the business community.”

 

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