Then and now: women, work and 20 years of the Sex Discrimination Act


Then and now: women, work and 20 years of the Sex Discrimination Act

The Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1984.


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The Sex Discrimination Act was introduced in 1984. Statistics outlined in Senator Susan Ryan’s address to parliament in 1983 gives an insight into the world of women and work 20 years ago. 

  • Unemployment rates among women were 11.2% in February 1983, compared to 9.9% for men.
  • 87.6% of discouraged workers were women.
  • Although the number of women in administrative, executive and managerial positions increased by 40% in the 10 years up to 1980, women filled just 14% of those positions by February 1983.
  • 36% of employed women worked part-time. 78.5% of part-time workers were female.
  • 5% of apprentices were female. Excluding hairdressers, that figured dropped to 2%.
  • Average weekly full-time earnings for Australian women were 76.4% of male earnings in 1981.
  • Average female weekly earnings were $283.30, compared to men’s at $352.10 in December 1982.

The way we are – 2004

Much has changed, but some things remain the same. The following statistics highlight, in particular, just how far equality and sex discrimination has come along in the workforce, and how far it still has to go.

  • Women earn 84.7 cents to the male dollar. When part-time and casual workers are included, women earn 65.3 cents to the male dollar.
  • Women are two and half times more likely than men to live in poverty during retirement, and by 2019 are expected to have half the superannuation accumulated by men.
  • Women with high levels of education (a degree or diploma) forego $239,000 in lifetime earnings from having one child. A woman with an average eduction (completed Year 12) forgoes $201,000 and a woman with a low level of education (Year 12 not completed) forgoes $157,000.
  • Women hold 8.4% of board positions and 8.8% of executive management positions in the top 200 ASX listed companies.
  • 49.1% of all business have no female managers.
  • Women make up 20% of small businesses.
  • 19% of IT managers are female.


Australian anti-discrimination and EEO law summarised

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