Four (somewhat) good news stories for feminists

Friday 29 September 2017

Article by Julia Szczepanski


Women of Australia, have you ever been called a ‘kitchen’? My guess would be no. Yet, last week I spent a day answering to exactly that term.

Paddle harder, André’s kitchen!

Kitchens lift from the front, please

André, what does your kitchen do?

We had been whitewater rafting while on holiday. Our guide explained that in his village, women were, perhaps affectionately, referred to as their partner’s kitchen.

It’s easy to think that the state of affairs is terrible for women in Australia. When there is news about women, it is about issues like the gender pay gap and the lack of women in Cabinets, boards and senior positions. And rightly so – these issues are very real for Australian women.

And then there’s the news that we hear less about. One in two mothers encounter workplace discrimination during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work, women are more likely to live in poverty in retirement, and one quarter of women were sexually harassed at work between 2007 and 2012.1

Nevertheless, we have clearly come some way from the days when our identities were solely defined by our ability to cook meals, clean houses and raise children.

So where’s all the good news?

Eductional opportunities

The good news: women have an increasing number of educational opportunities, with the proportion of women with at least a bachelor’s degree was 28% in 2016, up from 13% in 1996. Since 1998, women have outnumbered men in higher education, with 4% less men in possession of a degree in 2016.2

The bad news: the gender pay gap has shown few signs of closing, hovering between 15 and 19% over this period.  Among high income earners the gap is much larger, at 28%. Perhaps all of that education will pay off when the gender pay gap closes in 2133, as estimated by the World Economic Forum.3-5

The bottom line: women are more educated than ever, but the gender pay gap is undeniable.


Graduate outcomes

The good news: female graduates in IT and psychology earn the same amount or even slightly more than their male counterparts. In the four months following graduation, as many women as men find full-time jobs. 6

The bad news: IT and psychology are outliers, with other female graduates earning significantly less on average. Particularly egregious gaps can be found in science, architecture, health and law, all of which have a discrepancy of more than $5,000.6 While this gap may seem surmountable, a 25-year-old woman with a postgraduate degree can be expected to earn just two-thirds of what a man who is identical in every other respect will earn in a lifetime ($2.49 million vs $3.78 million) – or the same amount as a man with no tertiary qualifications.7

The bottom line: women are just as likely as men to enter full-time employment after graduation, but will suffer from a $1.3 million handicap over their lifetimes.

female empowerment

Board participation

The good news: women make up 25.2% of ASX 200 boards – a remarkable improvement from 8.3% in 2009 and well towards the Australian Institute of Company Directors target of 30%. In 2016, women comprised 44% of all new appointments to board positions.8,9

The bad news: there are still 13 companies with no women at all on the board, and only 5% of CEOs are female. In fact, an ASX 200 CEO or chair is more likely to be called John, Peter or David than to be a woman.10-12

The bottom line: female board participation has increased rapidly over the last decade – but consider calling your daughter Peter.

On the home front

The good news: more than half of women consider themselves the main breadwinner, up from 39% in 2006. This is a happy finding, as female breadwinners report higher levels of psychological wellbeing than women who are reliant on their partner. Men would like to be more engaged in domestic life as well, with 90% of Australians believing that men should be as involved in parenting as women.1,13,14

The bad news: mothers who work full-time devote twice as much time to household work as full-time working fathers, while more than eight times as many mothers work part-time. Even women in very senior positions carry more of the domestic thought load, with 57% of female executives taking responsibility for childcare arrangements compared with a vanishingly small 1% of male executives.4

The bottom line: women are increasingly contributing to their households financially, but with no corresponding decrease in other domestic tasks.

When I started writing, I was hopeful that I would find enough positive developments for women in Australia to focus entirely on the happy news. However, the more I searched, the more inequality I discovered, until it seemed disingenuous to focus on the positives without mentioning the counterbalancing negatives.

In the end, the other woman in the raft and I resigned ourselves to being called kitchens, rolling our eyes, but not challenging the guide. It was our partners who stepped up. “You know, I think I’m the kitchen…I earn less and spend more time at home”, said one. The other agreed, saying that he did the lion’s share of the cooking and cleaning.

Positive change is coming, however uneven and slow. One day we might all be free, regardless of gender, to identify with the kitchen, or the boardroom, or the classroom – or all three.


Julia Szczepanksi is a Senior Market Access Associate and a member of AmCham NSW's NEXT: Network for Future Leaders Committee. 

Disclaimer: The views contained in this article are Julia's own and do not represent those of AbbVie Pty Ltd or AmCham.

Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Women in Leadership Panel "Leaders Igniting Lasting Change" on 3rd May 2018 in Sydney!

How are successful leaders creating opportunities to ignite lasting change? Join the discussion with our inspiring panel of speakers and learn how they have taken action. 
Trena Blair (Founder and CEO of FD Global Connections Pty Ltd)
Zrinka Lovrencic (Managing Director of Great Place to Work)
Ariane Barker (CEO of Scale Investors)
Alexandra Tselios (Founder and CEO of The Big Smoke)
Anna Spear (CEO of ActionsPlus)
Andrew Stevens (Chairman of Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre)


  1. Australian Human Rights Commission. Face the facts: Gender equality.
  2. ABC News. Fact check: Have women become better educated whilst the gender pay gap hasn’t budged? 2 August 2017.
  3. Workplace Gender Equality Agency. What is the gender pay gap?
  4. Crabb, A (2014). The wife drought: why women need wives and men need lives. North Sydney: Ebury Press.
  5. World Economic Forum. It’s back to the future as women’s pay finally equals men’s…from 2006. 18 November 2015.
  6. Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching. 2016 Graduate Outcomes Survey: National report. November 2016
  7. AMP and NATSEM. Smart Australians: Education and innovation in Australia.
  8. Australian Institute of Company Directors. Board diversity statistics.
  9. Australian Institute of Company Directors. 30% by 2018: Overview of our 30% diversity target.
  10. Sydney Morning Herald. Australia’s gender shame: 13 ASX 200 boards with no women. 16 June 2017.
  11. SBS News. Just 5 per cent of CEOs in ASX200-listed companies are women. 18 May 2017.
  12. ABC News. Fewer women run top Australian companies than men named John – or Peter, or David. 8 March 2017.
  13. Roy Morgan Research. The rise of the female breadwinner. 6 March 2017.
  14. World Economic Forum. When women are the breadwinners they are far happier. More surprisingly, so are their partners. 23 August 2016.




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