Women in the Workplace: Australia

Sydney Australia Cityscape

Workplace opportunities for women in Australia have changed dramatically over the last half century. In 1966, 31 percent of Australian women between the ages of 30 and 34 were employed. In 2016 that number was nearly 72 percent.1 Today Australia boasts the top rank in women’s education according to the World Economic Forum and a 71 percent labor participation rate for women overall.2 While opportunities for women in the workplace have grown, Australia still reports some highly segregated industries and a stagnated gender gap. Like many countries around the world, Australia continues to move towards gender parity in many areas of the economy through shifts in cultural norms and legal policies.


Australia’s female literacy and education rates are among the highest in the world. As of 2016, literacy and primary education rates were nearly 100 percent with women outpacing men in many areas of education. In 2016, the Australian Government Department of Education and Training reported that women made up 58 percent of enrolled college students and about 51 percent of higher-degree (masters and doctorate) students.3

Although women are more likely to get a bachelor’s degree than men, they are not necessarily studying the same subjects or disciplines. Women are more likely to get degrees in management, culture, health, and education, while men are more likely to have completed qualifications in engineering, architecture, and information technology. Women were three times more likely to have degrees or certifications in health and four times more likely in education. Men on the other hand, were ten times more likely to study architecture and construction, with only 1 percent of women graduating in this field.4 These differences in education choices in turn affect career choices, which can be seen clearly through the trends in the workforce.

Labor Force Participation

More women of all ages have entered the labor force in the last half century. However the nature of the work women perform continues to vary significantly from the type of work men do. Women are more likely than men to work part time, hold casual jobs (jobs without paid leave entitlements), and work in certain professions, especially if they have young children.

Of employed women, 44 percent hold part-time jobs. When considering only employed mothers with children under six, this number rises to 61 percent. For men, only 16 percent of employed men work part time, and 8 percent of employed fathers with children under six work part time. Women who do hold full-time positions also report working fewer hours than men in full-time positions. For families with children in 2017, about 25 percent have both parents working full time. For about 35 percent of families with children, one parent is employed full time and the other is employed part time.5 About a third of employed women work in casual jobs, compared to about a quarter of employed men. Both men and women are more likely to hold casual positions when they are younger (under 34) and hold more formal positions when they are older.

For many industries in Australia, the workforce is fairly evenly divided, but some industries have remained noticeably gender segregated. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the four largest industries for women are retail trade, healthcare and social assistance, education and training, and accommodation and food service. Women dominated some of these areas, the most significant being aged care services, where women make up 84 percent of the workforce. In contrast, men made up more than 70 percent of the workforce for construction, mining, manufacturing, and public utilities.6 Other industries were much more even, with financial and insurance services being the closest at about 50 percent for each gender.

Men and women have nearly equal unemployment rates (4.8 and 4.6 percent, respectively), but women are nearly twice as likely to be underemployed (9.4 and 5.8 percent, respectively).7 These trends, especially when considering the labor participation rates and underemployment rates, shed some light on the gender wage gap that still exists in Australia.

Wage Gap

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that the current national gender pay gap is 14.6 percent. Over the last few decades, it has hovered between 15 and 19 percent without major change. The causes of gender pay gaps are often complicated and hotly debated. One of these is occupational segregation, where women generally work in lower paying industries. However, every industry has an unfavorable pay gap for women, even in female-dominated industries. Another factor is a lack of women in leadership. Fewer women hold higher-paying jobs, in part because senior positions often offer little flexibility. Part-time workers, the majority of which are female, also often have fewer opportunities for additional training and promotion.

Discrimination and bias are also factors, although the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Act) strengthened legislation promoting gender equality in the workplace. The Act requires businesses employing more than 100 people to submit a report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. The aim of the Act is to eliminate barriers to workforce participation equality, reduce gender and family discrimination in employment, and promote the productivity and competitiveness of Australian businesses through gender equality in the workforce.8 The Workplace Gender Equality Agency provides businesses with resources to promote workplace equality, including recommended best practices. As new laws take effect and business practices shift, it is likely that the existing pay gap will continue to decline.

As business traditions change and more women enter the workforce, the nature of and compensation for the work women do will continue to change. More educated women are entering the workforce, and for Australian women, flexibility is a must. New laws are promoting flexible options for employees, which will likely improve female participation rates across many industries and reduce the national gender wage gap. These continuing changes will shape the Australian economy and help Australian businesses compete in the global marketplace.

Here To Serve, In French

Quebec Cityscape

Regardless of country or region, a successful business speaks the language of its customers. In Canada, at the national level, both English and French are official languages. About 56 percent of Canadians speak English, and about 20 percent speak French1. In the province of Quebec, however, about 50 percent of the population speaks only French, and 44 percent speak both English and French2. Conducting business in Quebec without speaking French would be quite difficult, even if it weren’t required.

The Charter of the French Language (the Charter) is a law in Quebec that gives employees and consumers the right to work and be served in French3. Businesses operating in Quebec are required to have a French name, and products for sale must have French labeling that is at least as prominent as any other language presented. Businesses based in Quebec are not allowed to refuse to hire someone for not speaking a language other than French. Businesses that employ more than 50 people must also register with the Office québécois de la langue française. Advisors from this office determine whether French is the primary language being used in internal and external communications as well as work tools and documents4. They issue francization certificates, which are required to do business in Quebec, to companies that comply, and fines to companies that don’t5.

The rest of Canada does have some requirements for labelling and packaging in French, but these requirements are much less rigid than those in Quebec. Students in public schools are required to take some French courses, but French isn’t required by law in most workplaces. Quebec’s legal protections for French speakers is one method of preserving culture and heritage through language. The results of this are somewhat indicated through the language statistics of Canada’s different regions and the larger number of French speakers in Quebec. English and other languages aren’t prohibited in Quebec. Rather, the Charter simply requires that French be given emphasis over any other languages being used and protects French speakers who may otherwise be disadvantaged in the workplace.

In many places, businesses can conduct day-to-day business in whatever language best suits them. However, every rule has an exception, especially in language, and in Quebec, consumers have the right to work and be served in French.

Women in the Workplace

Working Women

In the last century, women’s rights and opportunities have grown dramatically in the United States and other countries around the world. In very few areas are these changes as pronounced as in women’s role in the workforce. Cultural, political, and economic factors all push and pull social norms and contribute to these changes, and their relationships are complex. Gaining a basic understanding of the role gender plays in workplaces around the world is a vital step in the successful navigation of the global marketplace. The articles in this series will aim to present a basic picture of what the workplace looks like for women around the world primarily on the basis of access to education, labor force and industry participation demographics, and wage gaps.


One fundamental cultural factor that helps determine how women participate in the economy the quality and quantity of education they are able to attain. The quality of education available to women and the level of education they complete has a major impact on their quality of life and that of their families. Women who complete lower secondary school are more likely to earn more, be healthier, and make better decisions than women who do not. According to a study done by the World Bank, the estimated cost of not educating girls (in lost human capital) is between $15 trillion and $30 trillion US dollars. (World Bank) The costs and benefits surrounding women’s education shape the cultures and economies those women live and work in.

Workforce Participation

Where do women around the world work? Decisions are never made in a vacuum, especially career decisions. The choices that anyone makes about what career to pursue are powerfully influenced by many factors, from the psychosocial like stereotypes, family patterns, and industry subcultures to legal and practical factors like occupational segregation, childcare options, and the laws surrounding sexual harassment. The outcomes of all these factors are often reflected in whether women choose to work outside the home (labor force participation rate), industry demographics, and what opportunities they encounter throughout their careers.

Wage Gaps

The definition and causes of gender wage gaps are widely debated, but they do exist in many places around the world. Suspected causes of wage gaps include lack of access to education, occupation and industry choices, lack of experience, and social expectations and perceptions. These gaps have a significant impact on women’s economic power and help shape the way women interact with both their workplaces and the economy as a whole.

The aim of this series is to illustrate how women influence and are influenced by the economies and cultures they participate in. In addition to the indicators listed here, many of the articles in this series also include other cultural factors unique to the country or region considered. The cultures surrounding women and their workplaces will have lasting influences on not just the women themselves, but their families, their communities, and their societies. To successfully navigate business in these settings, one must have a sound understanding of both gender dynamics and the cultural shifts that are changing those dynamics.

Hindu Undivided Families

Hindu Families

For the most part, businesses in India look a lot like businesses in the United States. General partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, and sole proprietorships all exist, although some go by different names. One unique structure that India’s culture has fostered is the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). The strong value placed on relationships, hierarchy, and top-down decision making are all distinctly apparent in this Indian business structure, though its role may be changing.


HUFs generally consist of “all persons lineally descended from a common ancestor and includes their wives and unmarried daughters.”1 Under this system, a karta, or a manager (often the patriarch or oldest son of the family) is responsible for managing the assets of the HUF. The HUF is a distinct taxable unit, and so members of an HUF are not subject to individual taxes on the amounts they receive from the HUF. The tax benefits don’t always outweigh the costs though.

HUFs are relatively easy to set up but can be difficult to break or modify. Because they are designed to keep property and assets together, HUFs can’t be partially dissolved, or rather, individual members can’t withdraw their interests without completely dissolving the HUF. Partitioning HUFs can lead to heavy taxes. The karta also can’t dictate who gets shares in an HUF, or how big those shares are; those elements are dictated by law.2 The challenges of new members, differing lifestyles, unclear lines of succession, and simple family conflict all take their toll on these businesses. Most family businesses in India last for about three generations before splitting.3

Cultural Implications

Hierarchical. Compared to many other countries, especially the United States, India is far more hierarchal than egalitarian.4 These values are clear in an HUF, where having a karta act as the boss helps to limit the consequences of conflict that might arise between members of the business. For a business that can’t always limit its number of members, respect for the leader becomes increasingly important. The reluctance of younger members to voice disagreement with the karta, or even older members, can also hurt a business facing modern issues.

Decision Making. Along a similar line, India follows a top-down decision-making approach.5 This cultural element allows HUFs to operate more easily because decision-making authority is centered with the karta. When conflict arises between members, the HUF could have a difficult time completing the simplest of transactions.6 However, having a single decision maker can help the business act decisively and move past issues that could prevent it from operating.

Relationship Based. In India, personal relationships are essential to business relationships.7 This is especially true for family businesses, where personal relationships are business relationships. Because family members can do very little to shut each other out of an HUF, maintaining positive relationships with each other is critical to the survival of the business. Sorting out HUF membership interests can take years to unravel if interests are transferred unexpectedly.8 Having strong personal connections helps prevent these complications and makes business transactions smoother.


Historically, sons and grandsons would receive an interest in the HUF equal to their father’s, but daughters would only receive a portion of their father’s interest. The Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act of 2005 made daughters’ inheritance rights equal to sons’, and a 2015 ruling confirmed that women could serve as kartas by virtue of birth order.9 John Ward, Professor of Family Enterprise at the Kellogg School of Management, believes that the shift to include women will help reduce the rate at which Indian family businesses split. As he states, “A family that only has brothers at the helm is the most unstable form of business enterprise. Brothers often end up with ego issues. If you involve daughters and other members then the bond is stronger.”10

Many HUFs turn to their younger members to solve new and complex issues. This makes sense—the younger generation is often more educated and open to new concepts. However, respect in these organizations often means remaining silent rather than disagreeing, so members of the younger generation may still remain silent on issues they have ideas about. The younger generation is frequently responsible for executing the decisions of the older generation, especially regarding succession. If the participants don’t agree with the plan, they won’t act on it, even if a legal document exists.11

Although HUFs may continue to be used as a family business structure, they are less common than in the past. Evolving business environments will undoubtedly lead to changes in how these businesses are run, but they continue to highlight major characteristics of business culture in India.

The Indian Nod – Yes, No, Maybe So

In the United States, we don’t use head movement in our gestures very much. In India, however, head movement conveys important information. The most unfamiliar movement to foreigners is the Indian nod, or the Indian “head bobble.” To perform an Indian nod, sway your head from side to side without turning, giving the appearance of a “bobble head.” The meaning of the Indian nod depends on eyebrow placement, speed, and duration.

Eyebrow placement can indicate the enthusiasm of the gesture. If eyebrows are lowered, it means the person agrees, but isn’t totally convinced. If the eyebrows are neutral, it means he or she feels fine about what you’re saying. If the eyebrows are raised, it means the person enthusiastically agrees.

Speed indicates intensity. The faster the nod, the stronger the feeling. If someone is nodding quickly with lowered eyebrows, the less certain his or her agreement is. Because saying “no” isn’t as socially acceptable in India as in Western countries, this “maybe” is probably a “no.” A slower, neutral nod can simply indicate understanding. A short, quick nod is generally used to say yes. Moving your head while someone is speaking shows respect and attention for the person who is talking. By nodding your head, you are showing the speaker how well you understand what he or she is saying.

By paying attention to the gestures people use in a foreign country and how they use them, foreigners can avoid misunderstandings and ask for clarification when they need it.