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Australian workers face a ‘part-time promotion cliff’ - and it’s disproportionately impacting women

A ‘part-time promotion cliff’ is limiting career progression for Australians who work part-time, or want or need to move to part-time work, according to a new analysis released today by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

A ‘part-time promotion cliff’ is limiting career progression for Australians who work part-time, or want or need to move to part-time work, according to a new analysis released today by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

Private sector employers with 100 or more employees report workforce data to WGEA every year in an Employer Census that enables the nation to track trends and performance on gender equality in Australian workplaces.

An early release of employer data obtained as part of this Employer Census shows that in 2022-23, while 21% of employees work part-time, only 7% of managers are employed part-time. WGEA has noted that this effectively means that part-time workers are facing a “promotion cliff."

Despite a few employers leading the way, the availability of part-time management roles has remained stubbornly low in Australia in recent years, with an increase of just 1pp from 2018-19.

The new analysis from WGEA also finds the share of managers working part-time drops with seniority: just 5% of Key Management Personnel and 3% of CEOs work part-time. This new data points to a large gap in promotional opportunities for women and men who don’t work full-time.

This can impact both the quality of leadership and decision-making, and a lack of part-time worker role models can perpetuate the belief that senior management and part-time work are incompatible.

“There is effectively a “promotion cliff” for part-time workers in Australia,” WGEA Chief Executive Officer Mary Wooldridge said.

“Part-time workers who want to take up leadership roles in their workplace, or to make the change from full-time or casual work, face a sudden drop off in availability of management level jobs that could otherwise contribute to advancing or sustaining their career.

One thing is clear from the research: the so-called 'promotion-cliff' is disproportionately impacting women, and results in women being restricted to junior roles.

“A high proportion of Australian women work part-time (30% of women, compared to 11% of men), so limited access to flexible working arrangements has a disproportionate effect on women’s earning capacity and contributes to Australia’s gender pay gap," Ms Wooldridge said.

“Women are more likely to want or need to work part-time, and sometimes more than once in their careers. This new analysis shows there are severe constraints on them doing so at senior levels and helps explain why we see much lower proportions of women in leadership roles."

“This risks women’s skills and talents being underutilised and can leave them languishing in more junior roles than they are capable of.”

WGEA has noted that employers that take proactive steps to analyse the structure of full-time management roles and consider opportunities for flexibility, including with job-share or part-time arrangements, can gain access to a whole new talent pool.

Further analysis of WGEA’s new data reveals that while female-dominated industries employ the highest number of part-time managers, women working part-time are proportionally more likely to be in a managerial role in a male-dominated industry.

This suggests that all industries need to challenge existing norms and proactively redesign management roles to enable them to be undertaken part-time. Female-dominated industries, particularly, need to ask what can be done to ensure more women in part-time roles are progressing to management positions.

Research has shown that at every age group, fewer than 50% of women work full-time and that gender differences in pay and senior leadership generally widen throughout life. Women are twice as likely as men to be working part-time and casually from age 35.

“While today’s new analysis relates to permanent staff who work part-time, many of the same issues are true for the 28% of women who are employed casually,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“In an environment of historically low unemployment, employers can’t discount part-time workers.

“To attract and retain talent from diverse genders and of all ages, employers need to offer flexible working arrangements, reconsider what it means to be a leader in the workplace and implement part-time or job-sharing opportunities at managerial and executive level.

“This is a call to action for all employers to actively develop and promote part-time management roles.

“Providing opportunities for women and for men to work part-time as they progress to management and leadership roles will have significant benefits for both employees and their workplaces.”

Do you work part-time and feel as though your career progression has been hindered? We want to hear from you. Get in touch at info@missingperpectives.com