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Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers

COOPER, Professor Rae, Private capacity


CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Prof. Cooper : I am the co-director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group and associate dean at the University of Sydney Business School. I'm here as co-director of the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group, but I'm going to talk to you about a recent report that I've done with a range of other University of Sydney colleagues who are not only from the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group but also from other parts of the University of Sydney.

CHAIR: Having seen some of the media coverage of that report, I think you'll have some interesting perspectives for us to think about.

Prof. Cooper : I hope so.

CHAIR: I now invite you to make a short opening statement and, at the conclusion of your remarks, I'll invite members of the committee to ask questions.

Prof. Cooper : Thank you. Very recently we undertook this Australian Women and the future of work research report. We have submitted a shorter version to the Senate committee, but I have also distributed the longer paper, which was not properly prepared in time for the committee's final submission date.

I could talk perhaps later about our broader research at the Women, Work and Leadership Research Group, which goes to the experience of women across their careers, from early career to more senior roles, looking at problems that women face in the labour market, ranging from pay equity, or lack of it, to lack of progress into senior roles, access to flexibility that works for them, and a range of other issues. But the particular thing that I'm going to talk about is just this particular piece of work, which we completed in the field late last year. It included a national survey. We collaborated with Ipsos social research to conduct the research. It was a national survey of 2,100 women and 500 men. It also involved a range of qualitative work, working with women only in the focus groups, around particular groups within the labour market—high skilled, low skilled, high paid, low paid, public sector, private sector, and also a group who we know have particular experiences in the workplace, which is working mothers. We have quite a lot of data. It's a 180-page report. I expect that you probably haven't read all of that, so what I might do in my opening remarks is just say why we did this and then go through a couple of the findings that we have. Then maybe you will have some questions about that.

The reason we have undertaken this research is to try to fill a gap that we think is quite glaring in terms of the real absence of women's voices from the future-of-work debate. We think this is quite striking for a number of reasons, including the fact that we know that the participation of women in education, including higher education and vocational education and training, is at the highest point in our history and we know that we have the best educated prime-age female labour force in the OECD. We know, however, that there are some gaps in terms of what happens once people reach the labour market. Knowing that we have a highly engaged female labour force and also that researchers—not only us but many leading Australian researchers—have picked up significant gaps and traps that women face in the labour market, we think it's really interesting that we have this group of highly educated, quite ambitious young women coming into the labour force but then we have a labour force and workplaces that don't exactly meet their needs. We also have picked up—and this is a slightly facetious point—that, in the debate about the future of work, there actually appear to be more robots, more machine learning, more AI, than there are women. We wanted to try to fill that gap.

What we did was to try to understand the present of work for women—and we already know that there are some gaps there in terms of their experience relative to men's, but we wanted to look at what the gaps were between what they wanted and what they experienced. That's about looking at the present of work, but we also spent some time talking with them, both in the survey and in the qualitative work, about their perceptions, their expectations and also their fears about the future of work.

I will just briefly touch on six things, if that is not pushing the time limit too much. The first thing, going to my first point, about the education of women, is that the women in our sample really expect to have long careers and they expect to have a lifelong engagement in the labour market. I think we are past the time when young women—remembering that our sample are women aged 16 to 40—think that they have to make a choice between labour market participation, taking on professional roles for which they are trained, and doing other important things in their life, like being mothers. They don't want to choose between those things, but they do want to be able to have a way to make it easier to combine those two things when they are living that part of their life.

The second thing is that they have a very strong ambition to be in more senior roles. We are not looking at an unambitious group of the labour market. They're people who want to come in, make a contribution and move into senior roles. However, they see really strong blockages in their future. Only 43 per cent of the people that we surveyed could see the opportunity to move to more senior roles from their present job. We think that's a worry. They see the importance of having the right skills, which I know is a particular focus of this committee. They see skills and education as being really important for their future success at work, but something that we are quite worried about is that only a small number of them, 40 per cent, say that they have access to accessible and affordable training which will allow them to advance their careers. So we've got the ambition, we got the pre-workforce training, but we don't have the in-the-workforce capacity to actually access the types of skills that they need and want to progress.

In terms of how women are in terms of optimistic or pessimistic or what they see as the future for them in work, interestingly they are less concerned than men are that automation is going to replace their jobs. That might go to the types of jobs that women and men work in. The committee will know that, in Australia, men and women tend to, stereotypically, work in very different jobs. It's stereotypical to talk about women's work and men's work, but it actually is a feature of our labour force and quite acutely so, compared to many other economies. So women are much more likely to work in health and human services, which perhaps is seen as less easily automated. Seventy per cent of women say they are not worried about technology replacing their jobs, which we thought was interesting. That is much lower than for men. The biggest issue women are worried about in the future of their work is that lower-wage workers will replace them in their jobs and that will undercut their standards at work.

We looked at the key things women employees valued as being the most important things in a job for them in the future. The two really standout features here—and 80 per cent of women identified these two features as 'mattering a lot', or 90 per cent if that was 'mattered a lot or mattered somewhat'—were that they wanted job security and they wanted to be treated with respect at work. Incidentally, those are also the two highest features for men but 60 per cent of men see that as important, as opposed to 80 or 90 per cent for women. The other top five are job security, respect, decent pay, flexibility and the capacity to combine their work with the rest of their lives. Interestingly, they want flexibility, which is also about having some control in terms of the hours they work and the ability to schedule their hours. And they want interesting work. That is what women are saying to us.

Another issue that stood out and captured a bit of attention in the press when we released our report first up, which goes to the theme of respect, was the theme of sexual harassment. In our survey, 10 per cent of the 2,100 respondents reported that they are presently facing sexual harassment in their job. We find that quite alarming. When we talk to women in focus groups about their experience and their observations of sexual harassment at work, whilst not all of them would talk about having had that direct experience themselves at work, each of them could actually converse with us about having identified that in their workplaces. It ranged from demeaning comments through to very serious physical behaviour in the workplace. We think the respect issue and the sexual harassment issue line up quite well.

In conclusion, women want to make a contribution in the labour force, they see themselves having a long career and they are ready to make a contribution there. But I think we need to recognise that we are not future fit and we are not fit for purpose in terms of what young women want in their careers. I think we need to have a gendered lens to have a look at what work presently looks like for women and trying to understand what we might do to build a positive future of work for young women.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your opening statement. Senator Stoker.

Senator STOKER: Thank you for your contribution. I am really interested in the things you have had to say about the role and the thoughts of women in the workforce. I noticed a few themes coming through what you have had to say about the tension between women wanting security in their work, which might pull in a slightly different direction, and their desire to have flexibility and control. Can you elaborate on the ways your research suggests that should be dealt with?

Prof. Cooper : Yes, I can. Women, and also men, highly value flexibility in their work. We often talk about flexibility. It is one of the ultimate motherhood statements: flexibility is good, inflexibility is bad. What I think the women are saying to us in this body of research is that they do want their capacity to be able to make their hours of work and their place of work come together in a way that meets their needs outside of work; but they also want to be able to do that in a way where they don't have to give up access to jobs with progression and they don't want to do it in jobs where there might be an hour here and an hour there—unpredictable hours and, therefore, unpredictable earnings that are impacting on them. So it might sound slightly contradictory, but my interpretation is that they are saying they want good jobs but they also want them to be flexible. They see that as what a good job is. They want a reasonable number of hours that will sustain them through pay, they want a reasonable rate of pay, that want access to training and promotion, but they also want to be able to have some ability to customise in a way that meets their needs and the needs of their family.

Senator STOKER: Did the qualitative research tell you anything about the nature of the training women were looking for once they had already entered the workforce?

Prof. Cooper : I noted some figures there about the gap between women knowing that they need these types of skills and also saying they have a gap in terms of what they can access. What was interesting in the qualitative research is that these young women are very switched on about the need to be across the new technologies. They are upskilling in those kinds of areas. Interestingly, they are really across the workforce trends that are going on; they are really across the need to get themselves au fait with web based platforms and a whole range of things like that. But they see it a little bit as something they can't quite grab at work; they feel it is something they are responsible for themselves and they can't actually see a way that their employers are properly supporting them to do that. So it is not a lack of interest in skills, particularly around technology, which they identify as a key thing; it is just that they can't see a way to access it through their work.

Remember that this group of women, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, are very busy people. I would say they are probably the most busy that we have in our labour force, with all the things they do inside and outside of work. There is not a lot of time to be spending hours doing training; accessing training outside of work is another theme that they brought up. It is something that would like to do in their work, it is something they would like to be part of their jobs and it is something they see as necessary for them to progress through their work.

Senator STOKER: Did your research show anything about that observation being different from how it materialises for men in the workforce?

Prof. Cooper : Because we didn't do qualitative research with men, I can't comment on the differences there.

Senator STOKER: I want to ask about women who are starting their own businesses—in particular, home based businesses and the 'mumpreneur' movement. Did you observe attitudes in your research about women wanting to be entrepreneurs? Did they find that there was a supportive community for them to be able to take those risks, or was that something that needed to be developed?

Prof. Cooper : It is interesting. We had a debate as a research team, when we were structuring the research, about the types of questions we'd ask about that very question. We asked: 'What is your ambition in the future? Is it to maintain or seek organisational employment? Is it to start your own business? Is it to grow your business?' We were surprised at how low the ambition was to start new businesses. In other research we have done in other areas around the 'mumpreneur' phenomenon and motivation, we find that many women who go out and start. businesses, particularly after motherhood, tend to do that firstly because of the traditional growth motive: they want to be founders, they want to have something of their own and they want to make their mark in the business world. But there is also a strong sense that what they are doing is trying to move away from what they find unmanageable in regular organisational employment—the corporate world or the public sector. They find that those sectors are not meeting their needs, so they will often move into small business ownership in a way that might meet their need to be engaged and working and bringing in an income. But we find that they tend to also be a little below their skill set. Also, concerningly, there is often not a lot of provisioning for things like superannuation. I have answered your question in a sideways fashion because we didn't do any qualitative research with women entrepreneurs. That is something we are quite interested in following up through the next few years of the next stage of the research. But we were actually surprised at the lower level of entrepreneurship focus in terms of the future of work for women who are participants in the study.

Senator STOKER: Are there things that you think could be done to foster entrepreneurship for women, particularly those who are in that motherhood phase?

Prof. Cooper : We are particularly looking at late 20s to mid-30s. As we know, the birth of the first child, on average, is at 31 and moving to 32. That is a particularly acute period. I think we need to be looking at organisational employment and the opportunities for women at that phase in their career and in their life cycle. But we also need to look at not creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which is really going to be to the detriment of the lifelong earnings of women who move into that phase. At some level, it is about educating women around things such as saving for retirement in later age, which is something you don't often think about when you are busy founding a business. I think it is also around looking at the ecosystem to help people start businesses and work in those environments. A lot of young women business founders talk a lot about the importance of having networks between them. I think the explosion in co-working spaces, and also the hubs in regional areas, is important. It is particularly important for young women with young children who are founding their own businesses that they can have a network and an ecosystem where they are able to bounce ideas off others who are in a similar situation—whether they are young women, older women or men at various stages of life.

CHAIR: Thanks for that. I was just looking at your submission and the point around job security. You have mentioned already that, in your research, job security was the equal highest aspiration for the women who participated in your research. I think I am right in saying that a higher proportion of women than men are employed as casuals.

Prof. Cooper : Yes, the majority of people who are casuals are women.

CHAIR: And, obviously, part time as well.

Prof. Cooper : Yes.

CHAIR: There is obviously a debate underway in the community at the moment about casualisation—whether it is higher than it has been and how people feel about it. Sometimes what you hear from the defenders of casual work is that it is very much what people want and that we shouldn't be interfering and stopping people from having casual work and all the benefits of flexibility that come with that. Did your research have anything to say about how women actually feel about casual employment?

Prof. Cooper : It is quite a complex issue and I think the debate around flexibility is changing. What you have characterised as the casualisation narrative was the approach in the early nineties: flexibility equals casualisation. I think we have moved on a little bit now, and I think this is really a trajectory that we need to consider in terms of the future of work. We need to not be looking at flexibility as something you get in a precarious job; it is something women are telling us they want to access in good jobs with some permanency, where they have access to training and the capacity to progress their careers. As I said earlier, when we talk about flexibility I think it is important that we unpack what it means to the people who are seeking it. My very strong sense from the women we spoke to in focus groups is that the type of flexibility they are seeking is not one hour here and one hour there, at the minimum wage; they are seeking to be able to pay back the investment they have made in themselves to train as lawyers, accountants and engineers and to be able to maintain that labour force attachment throughout different life points and career points but in a way where they also have some capacity to work flexibly. That might include working non-full-time hours, and that is in a range of ways: across the week, across the year, across school terms. There was a real interest in doing that. Women, when you ask them, come up with some creative solutions as to how their job might be done more flexibly and how that might contribute to building something different in their workplace. So flexibility for these women that we spoke to in our qualitative work really isn't about per-hour employment at the minimum wage; it is really about what they see as good jobs.

CHAIR: I am not sure whether this falls within this particular research project, but I suspect that you have done some work on this in your other work as well. I am interested to know what policy or institutional change is needed to provide women with the kinds of things they say they want—whether that is being treated with respect or more job security. Do you have any thoughts on what we could be recommending?

Prof. Cooper : Yes, I do. By policy, you mean government policy, public policy. I guess the way that I typically try to think about what government might do about a particular issue, whether it's about gender equity at work or a range of other matters around work, is that there are really three areas where government can play a role. The first is the most typical one, where we tend to look to legislation and regulation. Across many of these areas we can look at ways that government might be able to make some changes that will help to meet women's needs.

The second area really is around the direct and indirect employment impact that government can have. Government is a very significant—the most significant—employer of women in this country. If we also include not just direct employment but the funding chains, government essentially controls employment, particularly in really growing areas. I'm thinking particularly of health and human services. If we look at the data from the Productivity Commission through to any other reliable Australian dataset, we know that the largest growth in jobs has been provided by that sector and the largest projection of jobs growth to 2050 is projected in that sector. That sector is almost entirely indirectly controlled by government funding. So I think government has the ability to make some changes around their direct employees—which is a very, very large group of employees and a larger group of women than it is men—to provide good jobs which are flexible jobs and to model good employment and good leadership practices.

I guess the third area—and it is more ethereal—is around the normative framing of what happens in the workforce. That's about what the acceptable standards are that we expect in our society around things like respect in the workplace, decent work and good jobs. Across any area that we could talk about there are things that government might do where they have more or less control to be able to impact on these things, and that goes from flexibility to sexual harassment to a range of different issues. If you have specific questions about particular areas, maybe we could talk about that.

CHAIR: I'm tempted to stick with job security given that it was the equal top aspiration of the women who participated in your research. On the regulation point, have you got a top two or three things that you think could be changed to deliver that job security?

Prof. Cooper : Across those three different areas, in terms of legislation, it's probably not in the direct line of sight at the moment through legislation that we have. I think it's very difficult to control the rates of casualization, for example, through legislation, because it's a very indirect way that that happens. Government certainly has a role to play through the mechanisms that surround that though. If we think through the industrial relations legislation, through the Fair Work Act and the ways in which awards are regulated around things like minimum hours of engagement that people engage in—which has become quite different if you look at some interesting research that my colleague Professor Sara Charlesworth at RMIT has done—the award rates around things like minimum engagements across different types of awards which are feminised awards and non-feminised awards, like social and community services compared to metals and manufacturing, there are much lower levels of minimum engagement for the women's awards than there are for the men's. In that headline kind of area I think there is some work that government might do with the institutions that are around the regulation of employment.

In terms of government as an employer and government as a funder of women's work, a very big influencer over women's jobs, it's about the direct employment. We hear a lot, and in fact in our focus groups whilst there was only 19 per cent of our sample in our survey of women who are on casual contracts, we have nine out of 10 in our survey saying that insecurity and the desire for security is a really big issue. This goes beyond people's actual employment contract. In our focus groups both private and public sector women were talking to us about this pervasive sense that the world of work has become more insecure. There were many examples from women working in the public sector about the lack of ability to appoint people in permanent roles or to put people in that aren't on contracting roles. That is a significant lever that government has to pull, to be able to look at supplying jobs that have an end date that's a bit longer than six months and supplying jobs that aren't organised on an hourly basis. So there's a range of things government can do.

In terms of funding chains, if we're looking at some of the conversations that are emerging about where aged and disability care are going with funding, through things like the NDIS, there is a strong sense the costing structures—I say this less from my focus groups, although it was mentioned by some of our women, and more from my conversations with employers in the sector—are not sufficient to meet the needs of, for example, paying award based wages to the women who are doing disability at home. There is not enough fat, if you like, in the system to have people work a minimum acceptable number of hours, five or six hours, in a day. Employers are really feeling pressured to do a one-hour spot here and there, potentially, at the end of each day.

Government makes decisions about those things and, I think, having this conversation about the differential impact that some of these things have on women's and men's jobs is probably something we should be considering as part of all of our funding, of all industries, especially this one which is really important and growing.

CHAIR: Senator Patrick?

Senator PATRICK: Yes, I wouldn't mind, Chair, and I apologise for not hearing your opening statement. Your survey is a point-in-time survey. I presume you've been working in the area much longer than—

Prof. Cooper : About 20 years.

Senator PATRICK: When you're looking forward it's useful to look to the past. Could you articulate how things have changed, in terms of things like pay equality, glass ceilings, bullying, women being trained in an equal way to male workers, and what has caused some bumps along the way, either up or down, and what that informs you about on what's likely to happen in the future?

Prof. Cooper : Great question; I might talk for an hour now! Across the 20 years that I've been working in this area, and there are many colleagues I work with now who have been here a lot longer than I have, one of the outstanding changes we've seen, in terms of women's engagement with the labour force—I did touch on this a little earlier but it's one of my pet topics so I'll go again, and this is me speaking as an educator as well as a researcher as well—is the level of education of young women in Australia. We have the most highly educated labour force of our time in Australia and we have some of the most highly educated—if not the most highly educated, according to the World Economic Forum—young working-age women. That's a massive change that's happened, even in my lifetime.

Senator PATRICK: Can I interrupt you?

Prof. Cooper : Of course.

Senator PATRICK: When you say 'best' it obviously depends on the metric, whether it's simply numbers or they get to year 12. I have seen studies that say, for example, that Singapore does a lot better in maths than Australia and so forth. Can you explore that a little?

Prof. Cooper : Actually, it's us and Singapore who are up there, very high. By best I mean attainment; I don't mean specialisation. In terms of the bachelors workforce, the post-bachelors workforce, even the VET workforce, women have attained and completed those different AQF levels at a higher rate than they have in the past. That's what I mean there by 'best'. However, you're onto a very good point there. We still have quite a segregated studying population as well as an occupational workforce, which has women filtering into one particular specialist area and men filtering into another specialist area. That's why we're having that quite significant debate about the lack of women in the STEMM areas and the lack of men in the care, if you like, and humanities kinds of areas. That remains. Whilst attainment has gone up, that stratification between male dominated and female dominated has remained through that time. However, as an educator I would celebrate that we have, in the last generation, many more women being able to come into higher education and vocational education and the difference that's made in their lives.

Senator PATRICK: Sorry for interrupting again. I'm just exploring the rabbit warrens. Are you suggesting that the fact you end up with a segregation between STEM and care—is that a function of the way people are channelled into an educational pathway or is it something else that causes that?

Prof. Cooper : Answering that will take two hours! I think that is a really complicated thing, and there are so many things that influence that. It's around the norms around what's appropriate for the different genders as to work and study. It's about the influence of families on the choice of girls' studying area from as early as primary school—I can tell you, as a parent—through their careers. It's about the way that the school system engages with girls and boys around particular areas and what's seen as being appropriate. I will agree; it starts well before the labour force emerges, but the labour force doesn't do much to actually change that.

Even though we're having quite a significant debate about trying to increase both men in women's areas and women in men's areas—to break down the feminisation and masculinisation—it's still proving to be a fairly intractable kind of problem. And it's connected to lots of other issues, which you raised earlier—for example, the gaps that we see in pay. We're presently sitting on a national gender pay gap, as you'll know, of about 16 per cent. By the research we've done, we know that that is really best-case scenario, because what that does is to compare the earnings of full-time working people without loadings, without penalties and without bonuses. And it's only full-time workers; it's not part-time or non-full-time workers, so that excludes a whole bunch of women. So this is best-case scenario, comparing male full-time workers with female full-time workers with nothing on top—just their base salary. It's quite worrying if we look at particular industries where women work. Health and human services has a gap of about 30 per cent, aggregate level. Finance has a gap of about 30 per cent. Those things have bubbled around, and every year or so the ABS puts out the stats on the aggregate national gender pay gap. It goes up and down each year, but really we've been moving between about 16 and 25 per cent for about 30 years. That's not really changing.

Senator PATRICK: Before I interrupted you, I was trying understand if, when you look historically, there are any points in time when there was a big change and where we understood what that change was, that could inform us moving forward.

Prof. Cooper : Are you asking about the types of jobs that women go into or the types of industries, or are you asking about—

Senator PATRICK: Actually, just general equality across measures like, for example, pay, channelling to particular professions and so forth. Obviously we learn from the past. Were there any shock points along the way that caused a narrowing of the pay gap or a change in the way women were treated in the workforce that we can use to predict what might happen and what could be done to further improve things?

Prof. Cooper : I think that opening up higher education to a greater group of Australians has had an impact on letting women access the professions. However, the professions are quite a small body of jobs compared to the rest of work. Surprisingly, it hasn't had as big an impact on the gender pay gap nationally as we'd think. We've seen blips going up and down. There was a particular blip around a particular legislative framework in the early to mid-2000s, which was quite contentious at the time. It was around the lowering in minimum standards around the Work Choices period, where we see a bit of a change and an impact on lower paid workers particularly. But, essentially, it really bubbles along, and it hasn't changed very much, despite this real generation-long shift in education.

The labour-market economists tend to say, 'What have we got in terms of human capital, social capital, of the labour-force group?' and that should necessarily translate into changes in terms of what the reward is in the labour force, but it's actually not paying off. One of the reasons is that we still have this really stratified occupational and industry structure. Certainly we can see the impact of different things that happened at different points, but, at the moment, we have a 16 per cent gap nationally, and it's much larger, as I said, in some industries.

I think that gap is probably depressed somewhat. As we've been having this national debate about quite stagnant and actually very, very modest wage movements, particularly for men, I think that that gap is probably depressed. I'd say that, if we start to see some movement in men's wages, we might actually see a widening again of the gap between men's and women's pay, because there are two ways that you can close the gender pay gap.

Senator PATRICK: Going back to what the chair talked about, if we gave you the chance to be queen for the day, what would you do? If you were unfettered in creating a change, what would you do?

Prof. Cooper : Shall we stick to the gender pay gap?

Senator PATRICK: Yes.

Prof. Cooper : It's so complicated. I don't want to sound like I'm trying not to answer your question, but it's such a complicated problem that companies come at, from family, from schooling, from what happens in organisations to what happens in government policy and legislation. If I had a magic wand, I'd throw it around in all sorts of directions, not in one spot.

Senator PATRICK: You need to do it in all kinds of places.

Prof. Cooper : Yes. There needs to be a strategy which is across many different sites, and there are many different stakeholders who can address this question. Government is the group which has the most capacity to bring together all of those stakeholders and try to affect them.

I guess the thing that I would do, if I had one wish, would be to come up with some way that we can say, for example, with the gender pay gap, 'This is where we aspire to be in terms of the gender pay gap.' It's presently 16 per cent. We might like it to be at a particular level over a particular period of time and put the machinery of government and all of their capacity to influence those three things that I talked about: legislation, direct employment and indirect employment through funding chains. Also, setting those norms around work—to have the machinery of government being put behind that would I think be a big contribution that government could make to this, whether that's setting targets around the gender pay gap and then setting some strategies around what we could do.

We have had lots of enquiries around the gender pay gap, around superannuation savings, around paid parental leave—around a whole range of things—through Senate inquiries, House of Representatives inquiries, Sex Discrimination Commissioner inquiries. In an article I wrote not so long ago I think I counted about 10 or 12 in the last 15 years around gender equality at work. I think maybe a good start might be lining up all the recommendations from all of those inquiries and going through and saying, 'Okay. Where have we gotten to with those?' We did quite well with the paid parental leave inquiry and the outcomes. We have a national Paid Parental Leave Scheme. But I don't think we've adequately, for example, addressed some of the recommendations of the Senate superannuation inquiry that we had a couple of years ago, which went to the super system; it went to the Fair Work Act; it went to a whole range of other issues around women's education and their engagement with finance.

How's that for a start? Maybe we'll have a look at all the inquiries we've already had and see if we've actually met some of the recommendations and, if not, how far we've got to go to be able to try and address some of these issues.

Senator PATRICK: That's very helpful. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: No worries. Senator Stoker, do you have anything else?

Senator STOKER: No, thank you.

CHAIR: The only other thing I was going to cover was the skills and training issue. Your research, not surprisingly, shows that most working women think that developing the right skills and qualifications is important for being successful at work, but it also highlighted some dissatisfaction with accessibility to training. Would you like to elaborate on that, and do you have any thoughts on what we could be recommending to overcome that?

Prof. Cooper : Sixty per cent of our sample in the survey said that they didn't have access to affordable, accessible training that would help them develop their careers. That's a fairly significant gap. This is in the context of them saying they're quite ambitious and they know this is critical. Ninety per cent of them are saying it's critical for their career development. I think we're going to have to come up with a way that we can understand how we can meet those needs. Part of that might be about what government might do. We've had quite a national debate around vocational education and around higher education and the ways in which we might fill some training and skills gaps and also, I think, deal with some crises that we've had in terms of vocational education nationally, for example.

But I think we also need to look within organisations. What are the incentives that we can give to organisations to upskill their workforces? What are the ways in which we can ensure that this is fit for purpose for the future? Our young women are telling us that technology and training around those kinds of issues are really critical. But interestingly, in focus groups, they also talk to us about the need to have training for their managers and their leaders in the workforce around issues such as managing on a flexible or an agile basis. In my mind, I'm going back to the Karpin report—I'm not sure whether colleagues remember when that was; I think it was late 1980s—which found that we had one of the least educated, least skilled managerial workforces in the OECD. I feel that we still have quite a significant gap there in terms of training managers to be able to work with workforces of the future, to work with agile teams, to work with dispersed teams, to work with people who are working on non-standard contracts and to make that work.

I hope I'm not giving you an obtuse answer, but I think there's a lot of work to do in government, in terms of working out how our education ecosystem fits together, and then, again, working with our businesses and also government as an employer to work out the ways in which we enable employers to develop the skills that we know that the workforce needs but also give them incentives to be able to do that.

CHAIR: Thanks for that. I think that's pretty much it from me. Anyone else? Is there anything else important that you think you'd like to pass on that you haven't covered?

Prof. Cooper : No. I think I'm right. Thank you.

CHAIR: Great. Thank you very much for coming along today and thanks for your evidence.

Proceedings suspended from 10:26 to 10 : 44