Anne Junor

The latest figures shows that the number of women working in the labour market has grown, but only in areas where there is a growth in the number of jobs available. 

Now, if you look at where women are located vertically in career hierarchies, no prizes for guessing that the higher you go, the more male-dominated.

Overall, the number of women in the market has grown, but the women share has grown in the past 20 years from 39% to 45% of full time paid work, while part-time work has grown from 19% to 39%. However she says “unfortunately though permanent part time work has increased, much part time work is casual in nature, with no secure contract.

The figures show that women’s employment growth has been in areas where jobs growth has occurred. By and large women have not been moving into male areas, but have been occupying new jobs in areas of growth – particularly in the service sector.

A detailed breakdown of jobs growth in certain areas shows a wide variation of jobs growth between sectors.

  • In manufacturing, little has changed, with women’s jobs concentrated in food manufacture and to a lesser extent in printing.
  • In retail, the women’s share of fashion and household good retailing remains at around 64% and part time work has jumped from 34% to 49%; The women’s share of food retailing remains around 55%, with  part time  work increasing from 42% to 60% in food retail. In vehicle retail there is a slight increase in part time work, which has increased a little but women remain less than a quarter of the industry sector.
  • Finance and insurance are now just under 60% female, with a strong growth in part time work. There is however a lack of skill recognition and career paths.
  • For community services there is a huge growth in female share and in  part time  work. It is now 80% female, compared with 63% two decades ago.

Largely as a result of new jobs going to women, finance, education, health and community service jobs have become feminised. Education and health and community services are now strongly female occupations. The feminisation of finance started in the late 1970s with the restructure of retail banking, and this is still growing strongly.

It is fair to say that the growth of part time employment has facilitated women’s employment, and that part time employment is unevenly available.  While there has been a definite growth in permanent part time employment over the past 25 years, it can still pose career risks, and in any case the bulk of part time work is still casual.

Anne Junor is the Deputy Director Industrial Relations Research Centre, and Executive Co-Editor of the Economic and Labour Relations Review.