Marked improvement in financial equality…with the help of Barbie and the Matildas

A new report by the Financy Women’s Index (FWX) reveals considerable progress in gender financial equality after two successive quarters in decline, helped by record advancements in the gender pay gap and number of women appointed to ASX 200 board positions.

The FWX rose by 0.2 points to 76.5 points in the June quarter of 2023, up from a revised 76.2 points in March. The Index is also 0.4 points higher for the year to date.

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman, founder of Financy, said that the result signals a return of overall momentum as Australia undergoes a broader cultural shift helped by the influence of what she described as the ‘Barbie and Matildas’ effect.

“It’s exciting to see the gender pay gap shrink to a record low at a time when there has never been greater media focus on the pay gap, particularly in light of the Barbie movie phenomenon and the FIFA Women’s World Cup,” Hartge-Hazelman said.

The Index also took note of the number of women appointed to ASX 200 directorships, which rose to 36.4 per cent during the quarter compared to 36 per cent in March. The gender pay gap also fell to a historic low of 13 per cent during the quarter as average weekly wages for women rose by two per cent compared to 1.6 per cent for men, helping to narrow the disparity.

“Female equality is gradually shifting in the right direction fresh off the back of cultural trends such as the Barbie movie and the Matildas’ effect on women’s sport locally and globally,” Amber Daines, founder and CEO of Bespoke Co, said. “It’s a sign of what can be done. Let the momentum remain by ensuring leaders in all areas of business keep pushing forward in areas like the gender pay gap and be accountable.”

Despite the milestones, female-dominated industries such as healthcare and social assistance are underperforming male-dominated sectors like construction on average wages growth (3.4 per cent vs 3.8 per cent respectively).

Employment was also a challenge as the growth rate in monthly hours worked by men grew by 1.5 per cent in June compared to only 0.7 per cent for women, even for part-time roles.

“While the FWX is showing more positive signs this quarter and as we come off the highs of Barbie and the Matildas, the real test will be how women fare as the cost-of-living crisis deepens and economic growth slows,” Simone Cheung, a partner at Deloitte Access Economics, said. “The question of whether the modest improvements in the FWX are enough of a buffer for women as we enter a period of growing economic uncertainty remains to be seen.”

The Index noted that the Barbie and Matildas effect may facilitate a resurgence in FWX progress towards gender equality, building on this latest June quarter result.

“Barbie has raised awareness around gender equality to a whole new level but in a very positive way and the Matildas showed women’s sport can be just as popular as men’s sport,” Dr Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital, said. “We just have to keep building on these favourable events to make sure that they are turned into lasting change in reducing gender financial inequality.”

Natalie Previtera, CEO of NGS Super added that CEOs and industry leaders can help accelerate the cultural shift by taking greater action.

“Industry leaders have a unique vantage point to be potential agents of transformation and change,” Previtera said. “We just need to be willing to do it. Because companies shape practices and norms that can have broader societal effects.”