Women are a full generation away from achieving financial parity with men as the economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic add another four years to estimates.

The Financy Women’s Index estimates that job losses and salary cuts in Australia in the June quarter means women can now expect economic gender equality in 36 years, instead of the 32 years before the pandemic began.

The economic impact of the pandemic has been felt most strongly by women, who are more exposed to industries where job losses and salary reduction have been greatest and have also borne the brunt of school and daycare shutdowns.

These are factors that respected think tanks say could be reversed with a few tweaks, such as the Grattan Institute’s recommendations around cheaper childcare and slightly more generous parental leave.

“As the Financy Women’s Index shows, COVID-19 has only exacerbated the divide between men and women in paid and unpaid work,” Deloitte Access Economics partner Nicki Hutley said.

“Even if we return to the path of improvement seen before the pandemic, we remain a full generation away from achieving equality.”

Trend reversals

The Financy Women’s Index improved by 3.3 per cent in the June quarter largely as a result of male employment conditions worsening at a faster rate than female.

While female representation on ASX200 boards lifted slightly, the most significant job cuts in the June quarter were in female dominated sectors such as accommodation, food services, and arts and recreation.

“The volume of cuts to full-time female jobs in 2020 has reversed two years of female employment growth and has derailed a multi-decade trend which saw female workforce participation steadily expand,” Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of the Financy Women’s Index, said.

The gender pay gap, measured by average full-time weekly wages, widened slightly to 14 per cent in May as reported in August, up from 13.9 per cent at the start of the year.

The industries where the gender pay gap widened the most were mining, professional, scientific and technical services and accommodation and food services.

Financial and insurance services, health and professional, scientific and technical services still have the biggest gender pay differences of any sectors with gaps around 22 per cent.


Outlook grim

The report comes as a sentiment survey shows business leaders expect more economic pain to come.

More than half of the businesses in Melbourne surveyed in the August Sensis Business Index, just before the city went into Lockdown 2.0, say they will see a decrease in profitability over the next three months.

In the same survey just 27 per cent of businesses in Sydney expected profitability to decrease over the same period.

Nearly one in three Sydney businesses expected to increase their income compared to just 18 per cent of Melbourne businesses.

Sensis CEO John Allan said the survey showed just how hard some industries had been affected.

“There are some sectors that were less affected, but the hospitality and accommodation sectors were virtually shut overnight,” he said.

Melbourne and Canberra businesses are the most worried about their business prospects in the next 12 months.

Of the Melbourne businesses surveyed, 13 per cent said they would close their doors sometime in the next 12 months.

Transport/storage believes it will be the hardest hit sector followed by cultural and recreational.