Gender disparity 'alarming', says planner

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New research shows Australian women live longer and healthier lives than men, but have lower starting salaries and pay, lower labour force participation, fewer opportunities for workplace leadership, and less superannuation to retire on.

A select women’s issues council recently reported to the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) on how Australian women are faring in society compared to their male counterparts – not well.

The findings do not surprise Christine Hornery, owner of Financial Management Solutions and last year’s winner of the AFA Female Excellence in Advice Award.

“There is disparity – some of it’s inherent in society as there’s certainly no evidence of education difference – that is alarming to me," she told Wealth Professional. 

"We have the same, if not more women, getting qualifications through post-high school study, but there is a bias toward males in workforce productivity. There’s a disparity in salaries, which impacts on retirement savings.”

The research shows a woman’s average weekly earnings are 17.5% lower than a man’s, and she retires with a whopping 36% less superannuation.

To combat this, women need to be getting better financial advice early on, starting at high school, says Hornery.

“What I’m passionate about is that I don’t want to sit in front of another woman who facing retirement, particularly on her own, with a very low retirement balance.

“I look at it this way, if there was an opportunity to have had a paid mentor assist me throughout my life to apply advice and strategy to my financial situation, I believe I would have a lot more now.”

 On equal opportunities within the financial planning industry, Hornery thinks while progress is being made there is still much to do.

“When I first started my own business 12 years ago I was astounded at the inequality in numbers between females and males at the top… [But] we’re beginning to build a female friendly profession.”

Flexible hours, opportunities to control income level depending on speciality area, and online self-education all contribute to making financial planning a ‘female-friendly’ profession, says Hornery.

She suggests companies be as flexible as they can to help with childcare arrangements.

“We need to work collectively to solve this; it’s a problem that’s been here for decades.”

Her advice on how women can get to the top?

“Believe in yourself and what you’re capable of doing – there’s really nothing we can’t do. If you’re not happy with your life, make the change. Look for opportunities that are there.”

Association of Financial Advisers CEO Brad Fox told Wealth Professional while there are many female financial planners, they are under-represented in senior positions.

Earlier this year, the AFA launched the ‘Inspire’ initiative to help female planners network and get ahead.

“We want to help women be the best they can be. Women don’t build professional networks the same way as men. Helping them establish these networks is an important part of supporting their professional development.”

The COAG report shows:

- Women under 30 are now more likely than men to have higher education qualifications, but the equity gap remains for working age women overall.

- Women’s median graduate starting salaries are $5000 lower than men’s and women’s average weekly earnings 17.5% lower.

- Less than 3% of ASX 500 companies are chaired by women, and women hold 39.2% of senior executive roles in the Australian Public Service despite making up 57.3% of the APS workforce.

- Quarter of families with children under 12 could not access child care in 2011 due to the cost.

- Women retire with an average of 36% less superannuation than men.