Women's workforce participation - an economic priority

Increasing women’s workforce participation leads to better living standards for individuals and families, improves the bottom line of businesses and is a significant driver of national economic growth.i

This is why, in 2014 under Australia’s presidency, G20 leaders committed to reduce the gender participation gap between men and women (aged 15-64) by 25 per cent by 2025 in their respective countries (the Brisbane goal).  For Australia, this means decreasing the gap by three percentage points from 12.1 per cent (the 2012 starting point) to 9.1 per cent by 2025.

Australia’s record

Australia is faring well when it comes to increasing women’s workforce participation.  Women’s workforce participation is at 72.0 per cent as of May 2017, meaning nearly 5.8 million women aged 15-64ii are in the labour force.1

At the 2017 G20 Labour and Employment Ministers Meeting, Ministers agreed that while progress had been made towards reducing the gender participation gap since 2014, stronger efforts were necessary to achieve the Brisbane goal and to address other workforce gender gaps, including pay and career gaps.2

Early data indicates that Australia is broadly progressing well toward the goal. In May 2017, the gender participation gap (for persons aged 15-64) was 10.4 percentage points.

G20 target - closing the gap between the participation rates of men and women. The gap in 2012 was 12 per cent and current progress has us on track for our 2025 goal. Source: ABS, Labour Force, Australia, Feb 2017, cat. No. 6202.0. Four quarter average of seasonally adjusted data. Persons 15-64.
Source: ABS, Labour Force, Australia, Feb 2017, cat. No. 6202.0.

Four quarter average of seasonally adjusted data. Persons 15-64. G20 target - closing the gap between the participation rates of men and women. The gap in 2012 was 12 per cent and current progress has us on track for our 2025 goal.

Increasing Women’s Workforce Participation

Good for women and families

Economic independence is an enabler — for both women and men — to exercise control over their lives and to make genuine choices.

At an individual level, the benefits of lifting women’s workforce participation include additional financial security for women and their families by way of higher lifetime earnings, and increased savings for retirement.

The rewards grow into the future because a job today means more career opportunities and higher earning potential tomorrow. There are also social, health and wellbeing benefits of work to be gained for women and their families.

Some research shows the economic independence that employment provides can also assist women’s decisions to leave violent relationships.3 It can bring financial security, confidence and, therefore, safety.4

Good for the economy and for business

Increasing women’s workforce participation is an economic priority for Australia.

Successive Intergenerational Reports have highlighted the importance of higher women’s workforce participation to improving Australia’s productivity and prosperity, and to reduce the fiscal pressures associated with providing welfare support to an ageing population.

The Australian economy would grow by about $25 billion if we support more women into work
Source: Game changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia, Grattan Institute 2012.  

The Australian economy would grow by about $25 billion if we support more women into work.

In 2012, the Grattan Institute found that if there were an extra 6 per cent of women in the workforce, we could add up to $25 billion, or approximately 1 per cent, to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).5 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also estimates that closing the gender participation gap by 75 per cent could increase growth in Australian GDP per capita from 2 per cent per annum to 2.4 per cent.6

That’s why this Government has been so focused on increasing women’s workforce participation. In 2015–16, a key driver of our employment growth was the increase in women’s participation, with over 90,000 more women than men entering the workforce.

90,000 more women than men joined the labour force in 2015-16. Source: ABS Labour Force, Australia, Jan 2017 (cat. no. 6202.0)
Source: ABS Labour Force, Australia, Jan 2017 (cat. no. 6202.0)

90,000 more women than men joined the labour force in 2015-16.

The Government is also working with the private sector to ensure they understand the benefits of increasing women’s participation, and their elevation to senior leadership roles.

Encouraging more women to participate in the workforce, and at senior levels, makes clear business sense, because businesses that attract both men and women applicants can also access the whole talent pool, meaning better quality employees.

Breaking down gender segregationiii, whether by industry, occupation or part-time status, has clear economic benefits for business, allowing organisations to attract and retain high performing staff through accessing a wider and more diverse talent pool. Equally, we know that gender diversity at all levels — board level, executive level and team level — means better financial performance. 

  1. Workforce participation refers to the share of the working age population (aged 15 years and older) who are either in a job or actively looking for one.
  2. Australia’s G20 goal is based on women’s workforce participation rates for women aged 15-64. The majority of Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force data refers to a working age population of ages 15 years and over.
  3. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) defines gender segregation as either an industry or an occupation in which one gender—either men or women—make up more than 60 per cent of all people employed in either the industry or the occupation [WGEA Gender Segregation in Australia’s Workforce, August 2016]
  1. ABS Labour Force (2017) Australia, seasonally adjusted, persons aged 15 years and over (last release May 2017), cat. no. 6202.0
  2. G20 Labour and Employment Ministers Meeting Ministerial Declaration (2017) Towards and Inclusive Future: Shaping the World of Work http://www.g20ewg.org/index.php/component/phocadownload/category/13-declarations?download=283:g20-labour-and-employment-ministerial-declaration-bad-neuenahr-18-19-may-2017 [accessed 1 June 2017]
  3. M Costello, D Chung and E Carson (2005) Exploring Pathways Out of Poverty: Making Connections Between Domestic Violence and Employment Practices. 40 Australian Journal of Social Issues 253 http://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=040023029475779;res=IELHSS [accessed 18 April 2017]
  4. S Potton (2003) Pathways: How Women Leave Violent Men, 71 http://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/47012/pathways_how_women_leave_violent_men.pdf [accessed 18 April 2017]
  5. Grattan Institute (2012) Game-changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia. https://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Game_Changers_Web.pdf [accessed 18 April 2017]
  6. OECD (2012) Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now, OECD Publishing, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264179370-en. [accessed 18 April 2017]