Graduate Consultant, Tana, shares her key insights from the second session at last week’s Women in Super event. Here is her overview from the presentation by Julie Fox (National Assistant Secretary, SDA). Thank you to Women in Super for organising this event and for continuing to represent the voice of women in superannuation.

The outbreak of the highly infectious COVID-19 virus over the last two years has generated excessive lockdowns, school closures and irregular work activities, meaning female-dominated industries have suffered. There are 1.5 million people working in the retail industry in Australia. This accounts for over 10% of all working Australians and they are predominately women.

The SDA, in partnership with the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW, commissioned the first ever study into the ‘Challenges of work, family and care’ in the retail industry. The study received almost 6,500 employee participants, providing an insight into the daily lives of retail workers. It presented a pattern of female employees being swamped – grappling with irregular work, concerned their hours are negatively affecting their children’s’ lives and feeling punished for having care responsibilities and for relying on parents or neighbours to look after their children because of sudden shift changes.

Female workers are impacted by the following (key themes):

Financial distress

Insufficient hours and short shifts, resulting in a lack of uncertainty and control.

  • 55% of respondents live in a household with a post-tax income of less than $1,000 per week (32% of coupled parents and 80% of sole parents live in households with incomes under $1,000 per week).
  • 10% of parents do not have a regular work day.
  • 2 in 5 workers always work the same shifts each week.

Fear of repercussions and punishment

  • Cultural and systemic discrimination has impacted the careers and opportunities for women due to a lack of inadequate gender equality policies and procedures in organisations.

Access to opportunities

Access to opportunities has declined because of caring responsibilities as parental leave does not support those who need it.

  • Discrimination and return-to-work issues continue to fester within the retail industry as 14% of mothers took no form of paid of unpaid parental leave and a staggering 20% of mothers (and nearly half of all fathers) missed out of employer-funded parental leave.
  • Access and affordability of formal childcare is avoided, largely due to the cost (e.g. charging of fees in blocks as most childcares don’t accommodate non-standard hours).

Gender equality in Australia

This research has allowed for sound evidence that will help guide thinking for institutional investors as it goes into the heart of hard work and gender equality. It has played an integral role in understanding the current environment faced by women in Australia. Studies such as this allow for a voice beyond the boardroom.

Findings were also presented from the World Economic Forum’s latest ‘Global Gender Gap Report’. This shows that Australia has suffered a huge decline over the past decade and is currently ranked 50 out of 150, across gender equality indices.

[Source:  World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021, page 103]

Working towards a solution

In order to resolve these issues, it is essential that, as a society, we recognise and value carers and that structures are created within industries to support those people who are caring for others. Care needs to be managed where workers are provided with stable, predictable and secure work to sustain a good quality of life. Furthermore, access to affordable childcare is important as it enhances participation and decreases barriers. Care needs to be recognised as a ‘critical social infrastructure’ and must be assigned a fair economic value.


As a young woman in the superannuation industry this information was both inspiring and concerning to me. It was extremely confronting as it reaffirmed the importance of understanding my position as a woman in this world, and the positions of so many other women in Australia. Regardless of an individual’s socio-demographic background, it highlights that we all have something in common, that is … wanting a dignified career and a dignified retirement. I hope to one day see more financial literacy and educational opportunities for young women within the Australian community. It is clear to me that further work needs to be done in this area to give women a fair chance at a dignified retirement.

Summary provided by Tana Pasipanodya, Graduate Consultant