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Gender Equality in the Social Work Industry: The State of Play

February 2020 by Tradewind Australia

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As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s an ideal time to reflect on the current state of gender equality in the Social Work industry in Australia. With an overwhelming representation of women working in the sector (almost 90%), it would be natural to think it’s a fairly level playing field when it comes to pay parity, promotion and recognition of women. However, there are still some areas where there is more work to do to create an environment that truly supports equal opportunity for all.

Gender Pay Gap

Despite being a female-dominated profession, statistics from a 2018 Workplace Gender Equality Agency report shows that a gender pay gap in the Social Work industry in Australia still exists. The study found that male health care and social assistance graduates were paid on average 8.7% more than female graduates.

These statistics align with the more general insights uncovered in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2018 Gender Equality report. It showed an Australian women’s weekly wage is 15.3% less than a man’s, while they also have to work an extra 56 days each year to earn the same wage as a man does for an identical job.

If things are to change for the better for women in the Social Work industry, it’s imperative there is a review of pay rates not only between genders, but across the public, community and not-for-profit sectors, as well as between industries with comparable risks and expertise (particularly those that are male-dominated).

Difficulties with Progression

Another sticking point for social workers has to do with the ability to progress within the field. According to the Victorian Government’s Social Work Workforce Report 2018, 72% of social workers felt they didn’t have a clear pathway to progress in their career.

Many also felt they weren’t rewarded for their clinical expertise and specialisations, and that rates of pay didn’t necessarily reflect experience and seniority.

Moving forward, it is hoped the industry will look at ways to develop a social worker’s career structure, rewarding them for their expertise and encouraging women to keep climbing the management chain without being required to drop their client caseload altogether.

The good news is that despite this progression challenge, over half of the social workers surveyed planned to remain in the industry for the long term (10+ years), further illustrating the commitment and deep love they have for the valuable work they do to help vulnerable Australians in their time of need.

A Need for Professional Recognition

Perhaps one of the factors influencing the lack of pay and gender equality in Social Work lies in the lack of professional recognition within the sector.

Currently, the Social Work industry in Australia does not have any national system of statutory regulation. In essence, this means it can be difficult for those working in the field to differentiate a social worker without formal education from one who is fully qualified. The ramifications this has on the way social workers are viewed by other healthcare professionals can be serious, not to mention the risk that a lack of registration, accreditation and regulation poses to the public.

Luckily, there are some encouraging signs in this area. The South Australian Government is currently overseeing an inquiry into a proposed Social Workers Registration Bill. This will pave the way for further reform around improving professional understanding and formally defining the social worker’s role, which should naturally lead to a rise in pay rates.

A Positive Outlook

While there is some way to go when it comes to true gender equality in Social Work, the sector as a whole has a very promising future.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018 labour force survey data, the number of social workers employed has jumped by over 20% in the past decade. This is further backed up by the Department of Employment’s Job Outlook report, which states they expect to see “very high employment growth” in the sector, this year and beyond.

This is excellent news for the industry at large. For us working in Social Work recruitment, it means we’ll have plenty of new and exciting job opportunities to offer our candidates. If you’re considering a move in your Social Work career, or are merely interested in seeing what else might be out there, please get in contact and let us know.