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The changing shape of inclusion

Head of FX Research, ANZ Institutional

2024-03-08 00:00

What it means to be inclusive is evolving. If the economy is to really enjoy the proven benefits of diversity, we all must change with the times – and fast.

The narrative surrounding women's empowerment has shifted significantly in recent times. Many societies have progressed beyond a requirement on women to conform to a ‘man's world’, recognising the inherent value and potential of all kinds of people in diverse roles and leadership positions.

Yet amid these strides, the journey towards true inclusion and equity continues, highlighting the need for collective action and a redefinition of what it means to uplift and empower people globally.

Truly including women and ensuring a sense of belonging requires more than just token gestures — it demands a fundamental shift in attitudes, policies and practices. It means creating environments where women are not only welcomed but actively supported and empowered to reach their full potential. It means fostering a culture of inclusivity and respect where every woman feels valued and celebrated for her unique contributions across the changing phases of her life.

Furthermore, it is crucial to recognise achieving gender balance is not just a matter of fairness or social justice – it is also a fundamental economic issue.

Gender balance in the workforce directly impacts productivity and innovation.

Studies have consistently shown diverse teams are more innovative and better equipped to adapt to changing market dynamics, giving businesses a competitive edge in a rapidly evolving global economy.

Moreover, gender balance is closely linked to economic growth and stability. When women participate fully in the labour force, economies can unlock significant potential for growth and development.

Progress is underway. Official data showed employment growth for women in Australia outpaced that of men in 2023. At the same time, the participation rate among women increased steadily, in line with its pre-COVID trend, while for men, the rate was more volatile.

The difference in employment-to-population ratio among men and women narrowed during the year, while total hours worked grew faster among women than men.

Still, challenges remain. The gap between women and men in underemployment rates must be addressed. Although it has closed relative to its pre-COVID level, the underemployment rate among women remains slightly higher.

And despite the recent growth in part-time employment among men, women still account for two-thirds of part-time employment.

According to a study by Deloitte Economics, achieving gender equality in workforce participation could boost the Australian national economy by $A38 billion annually by 2038.

Furthermore, achieving gender balance has broader implications for social cohesion and wellbeing. When women have equal access to opportunities in the workforce, they are better able to achieve financial independence and security, reducing poverty and inequality.

Gender balance is indeed a fundamental economic issue with far-reaching implications for productivity, innovation, growth and social wellbeing.

Participating in the workforce is one hurdle, but the gender pay gap remains a significant drain on women’s wellbeing and ability to succeed. A woman earns (on average) 0.78 cents to every dollar a man earns. Think about what that means over a 40-year working life in terms of living, supporting a family, accessing further education and approaching risk. This gap is even wider for Indigenous women and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Not all women face the same obstacles consistently throughout their working lives. Intersectional challenges, like being Indigenous, having a disability, or having carer responsibilities increase the level of marginalisation of some women all the time or all women at some time. Ultimately, addressing inclusion is essential for creating a society where everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

For some women that will be positions of leadership. The reality is that, in Australia, only 22 per cent of CEO positions and 34 per cent of board seats in Australia's ASX 200 companies are held by women. According to a study by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, only 25 per cent of boards have achieved gender balance, but 26 per cent have no women at all.

As we reflect on International Women's Day 2024, it is essential to recognise the pursuit of women's equality extends beyond equal opportunities – it encompasses the concept of equity. Equity recognises individuals have different needs and circumstances and seeks to address systemic disparities to ensure fairness.

While equal opportunities are a step in the right direction, achieving equity requires a deeper commitment to removing systemic barriers and lifting those who have had less access to the playing field.

Mahjabeen Zaman is Head of FX Research at ANZ Institutional

This story orignally appeared in The Australian

The changing shape of inclusion
Mahjabeen Zaman
Head of FX Research, ANZ Institutional
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