Tipping the balance on International Women’s Day

The ‘tipping point’ is a phrase widely used by social commentators to indicate how a small event can add just enough impetus to ‘tip the balance’ and cause wide sociological change.

International Women’s Day is a celebration of the economic, cultural and political achievement of women. This year, the hashtag (theme to those who are not social media followers) is #balanceforbetter, symbolised by an outstretched hands indicative of balanced scales.

There is no dispute a balanced, diverse workforce is better for business. The case for gender diversity on boards is indisputable with a well-established link between diversity at the board level and improved financial performance. Our analysis of the ASX 300+ found that in 2016, those companies with female directors outperformed their rivals in revenue growth, improved profitability and growth in earnings per share. But the situation is far from balanced on Australian boards with sixty five percent of mid-cap listed companies with no female directors at all.

The Australian Institute of Company Directors aspire for 30 percent of women on boards by the end of 2018. The results are not in yet – but could this be the tipping point?

In the last 12 months, KPMG published our research and opinions on three important issues. These highlight gender imbalance and make strong recommendations for change. All were co-authored by our National Chairman Alison Kitchen and Tax Partner, Grant Wardell-Johnson.

The first was, Ending workforce discrimination against women. Put simply, our economic modelling shows halving the gap between male and female workforce participation rates would increase our annual GDP by $60 billion over the next 20 years. This could lead to a $140 billion lift in our cumulative measured living standards by 2038.

More than half of Australia’s university graduates are female. By not addressing barriers against women being active in the workforce, our society is not achieving the best possible return on investment in women’s education.

The tipping point here is accessible, affordable childcare.

The second report was, The cost of coming back. When launching the report Alison Kitchen said: “Our report has found that for a couple earning the minimum wage, the mother is effectively working for just $2.50 an hour on the additional days if she increases her working days beyond three a week.” This is due to the interaction between the Australian tax, family payments, and childcare subsidy systems creating punishing disincentives for working mothers at all income levels, and exacerbating the effects of wider social biases against women.

The tipping point here is making changes to the Child Care Subsidy.

Longer term, society needs to rethink our working norm and tip the balance to a society where fathers who work full time can reduce their working days from five to four, while mothers have the choice, without financial disadvantage, to increase theirs from three to four. This would allow better opportunities for women to advance their careers while balancing parenting between both parents.

Financial inequity throughout women’s working lives adds to the disadvantage of older age women, particularly those who don’t own their own home and are reliant on the pension in retirement.

In our final report in this series, Delivering equity: A new deal for women pensioners who rent, the gender pay gap, income and superannuation gaps, compounded by the unpaid caring work completed throughout their lifetimes, leave female pensioners with little to show financially for their hard work.

For many of these women, change may come too late, but our recommendations to address disadvantage in the income support and superannuation systems may be the tipping point for equity for their daughter and granddaughters.

At KPMG we strongly believe an inclusive future is not only possible but an imperative for a positive and profitable workplace.

This year on International Women’s Day I challenge you to commit to one change you can make to tip the balance for a more equitable society.

#BalanceForBetter because the #futureisinclusive.

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