Gender equality and caring

Summary

Carers come from all walks of life, cultural backgrounds and age groups. They provide support and care to members of their family, friends and other members of the community with their emotional, social or physical needs.

  • 2.65 million Australians (10.8% of the population or around 1 in 9 people), are carers.
  • Australian carers provide 2.2 billion hours of informal care each year with the cost of replacing this care valued at $77.9 billion.
  • Females are more likely to be carers than males, with 12.3% of all females providing care and 9.3% of all males.[i]

Access tools and support from: Carers Australia, the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Department of Social Services,  Carers + Employer

About Carers

Carers support people with medical conditions or who have a disability, substance abuse issues, or those who are aged and/or frail.[ii] They may provide help and support with daily activities for the person being cared for, such as physical and personal care, or providing transport but it can also involve other forms of care such as providing emotional support, supervision, advocacy and service coordination.[iii] The term carer can also refer to people who care for minors. Workplace issues related to this type of caring are covered extensively in other areas of our website, such as in our parental leave resources.

Unpaid carers make significant social and economic contributions to Australia. Economic modelling undertaken by Deloitte found that Australian carers provided 2.2 billion hours of informal care each year, with the cost of replacing this care valued at $77.9 billion.[iv]

In addition to the major contribution that carers make by engaging in their caring responsibilities, many of them also engage in paid work, although they are less likely to be employed in a full-time capacity than non-carers.[v]

Over 2.6 million Australians, or close to 11% of the population, are carers. It is important to remember that anyone could become a carer at any time due to illness or injury, for any length of time. Although most carers are over the age of 55, young people can also be carers: 1 in 10 carers are aged 25 years or younger.[vi] The Australian population is ageing and the workforce is likely to see an increase in the number of employees that balance work with caring responsibilities.[vii] For this reason it is more important than ever to understand how we can support employees who also care.

How does caring impact the workplace?

Overall, carers may be:

  • less likely to be employed in a full-time capacity
  • less likely to work in less flexible industries or occupations
  • more likely to experience discrimination in the workplace
  • less likely to have professional development opportunities
  • more likely to reduce their working hours
  • more likely to take leave
  • more likely to change their job or stop work altogether[viii]

Research shows that there are substantial differences in employment outcomes for carers and non-carers and there is further divide between primary and non-primary carers. Primary carers are carers who identify as the main person with caring responsibility.

  • Over 70% of all carers are engaged in the labour force. However, only 58.8% of carers who are the main person caring for an individual (primary carers) are in paid employment.
  • This figure drops drastically as the number of hours of caring increases, with only 28.6% of primary carers who provide 40 hours or more of unpaid care engaged in the paid labour force.[ix]
  • A recent survey conducted by the Diversity Council Australia in partnership with Suncorp found that 35% of carers reported they had experienced discrimination in the workplace, this was 13% more than non-carers (22%).[x]

Supporting your employees with caring responsibilities can have positive impacts for your workplace, including:

  • reduced costs of employee turnover
  • increased productivity
  • improved service delivery
  • reduced stress and absenteeism
  • enhanced attraction and recruitment
  • increased morale
  • a more resilient workplace[xi]

Covid 19

The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges that may exacerbate existing gender inequalities within the caring community and increase the urgency of better recognising the needs of carers in the workplace.

Carers NSW has published the following resources:

 A handbook for carers during Covid 19

Briefing 1: Working remotely can work for carers

Briefing 2: Multi-dimensional flexibility for carers

Briefing 3: Workplace strategy for carers

Women and Caring

Historically, unpaid care has been undertaken mostly by women and this has correlated with women’s underrepresentation in the paid workforce.[xii] However, the proportion of women in the workforce almost reached parity with men, with women comprising 47.2% of the Australian workforce and men 52.8%.[xiii] As women enter the workforce in larger numbers, the challenge of balancing unpaid care with paid is increasing.

Currently, 12.3% of all women in Australia identify as a carer, and women represent 7 out of 10 primary carers (71.8%).[xiv]

The peak age for a female carer is 55, which is a time in life when many women may have recently transitioned out of child rearing only to assume caring responsibilities for a relative or friend. Conversely, the number of male carers peaks at age 75, which coincides with the Australian retirement age.[xv]

The compounding result of the disproportionate share of unpaid care is that women are:

  • less likely to be able to engage in full-time paid work
  • more likely to work part-time or casually
  • more likely to work in occupations or industries that offer more flexibility
  • more likely to experience interruptions to their career
  • more likely to have a substantially lower superannuation balance at retirement
  • more likely to experience depression or anxiety than non-carers[xvi]
 

Men and Caring

A little over 9% of all Australian men identify as carers.[xvii] While men represent just 28% of primary carers they are just as likely as women to identify as non-primary carers.[xviii] Caring is all too often associated with being ‘women’s work’ and male carers may face specific challenges – including less access to support.

Research into men and caring roles in Australia has found that normalising and modelling flexible working arrangements can assist men to balance work with their caring responsibilities.

Data collected by the Diversity Council Australia in 2018 indicates that male carers report:

  • higher instances of discrimination than male non-carers (25% to 14% non-carers)
  • they are more likely to disagree with the statement that they can be themselves at work (16% to 10% non-carers); and
  • they are more likely to disagree that they can progress at work (19% to 9% non-carers)[xix]

The assumption that caring is women’s work and the historical composition of women performing caring roles have left persistent stereotypes about who cares and what a carer looks like. The result is that male carers may be:

  • less likely to publicly identify as a carer
  • less likely to seek support from the community or their workplace
  • less likely to be granted flexible working arrangements
  • less able to access part-time work[xx]
  • more likely to feel discriminated against in the workplace[xxi]

What can workplaces do?

Meet your legal requirements

All Australian employees are entitled to minimum entitlements as outlined in the National Employment Standards (NES). This includes paid personal/carer’s leave, unpaid carer’s leave and paid or unpaid compassionate leave. Any employee with caring responsibilities also has the right to request flexible working arrangements in accordance with the Fair Work Act 2009. It is your legal responsibility as an employer to make sure that your workplace meets the standards outlined by the NES.

The Carer Recognition Act (2010) and the Statement for Australia’s Carers formally acknowledge the valuable social and economic contributions that people with caring responsibilities make to our society.  Australian Public Service Agencies and Commonwealth Government funded providers have certain obligations under the act and includes ten key principles for how carers should be treated and considered in policy, programme, and service delivery settings.

Implement a formal policy or strategy for carers

Currently, close to 70% of Australian employers that report to the WGEA have a policy or strategy to support employees with family or caring responsibilities.[xxii] You can make sure that your workplace has policies and procedures in place to protect and support carers.

The following workplace arrangements can positively contribute to the experiences of employees with caring responsibilities:

  • flexible start and finish times
  • special leave for caring
  • home-based work
  • being able to leave at short notice for emergencies[xxiii]

Redesign roles to accommodate caring responsibilities

You can redesign job descriptions or help employees to upskill where they may have caring responsibilities that require them to be more flexible or, if they have been out of the workforce for some time due to caring.

Publicly support carers

You can ensure that your workplace publicly conveys support for employees who care for and support a family member or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependencies, chronic condition, terminal illness, or who is frail due to age. You can do this by creating a positive workplace culture. Some employees may feel reluctant to inform their employer that they have caring responsibilities for fear of discrimination. It is important that your workplace models support for carers from the top down. Leaders can model flexibility and be vocal about their support for caring commitments.[xxiv]

Provide training for managers

You can ensure that managers within your organisation are adequately trained to understand how to best support employees with additional caring responsibilities.

Consult with your employees

Consult with your employees and consider including carer status in any diversity and inclusion surveying that occurs within your workplace.[xxv]

Provide access to support

You can ensure that your employees have access to support services, such as an Employee Assistance Program, in order to manage stress and anxiety which may accompany additional caring responsibilities.

Provide information about carer support services via Carer Gateway, which provides a range of support services in person, over the phone and online.

Provide financial assistance

Workplaces can elect to subsidise childcare, aged care, emergency services or carers assessments in order to support their employees with caring responsibilities.

For more ideas, see: Carers + Employers, 10 tips for a carer-friendly workplace

References

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[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release#carers

[ii] https://www.carersaustralia.com.au/about-carers/who-is-a-carer/

[iii] ibid.

[iv] Deloitte, 2020, The Value of Informal Care in 2020, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-dae-value-of-informal-care-310820.pdf

[v] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release#carers

[vi] Carers NSW 2021, Facts about Caring, viewed 20 July 2021, available: https://www.carersnsw.org.au/about-caring/facts-about-caring

[vii] Chomik, Rafal; Jamal Khan, Fatima (2021): Tapping into Australia’s ageing workforce: Insights from recent research, CEPAR Research Brief, June 2021, available: https://cepar.edu.au/resources-videos/research-briefs/australia-ageing-workforce-research-insights

[viii] Carers NSW (2020) 2020 National Carer Survey : Summary report, and Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release#carers

[ix] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release

[x] Diversity Council Australia 2019, The Findings: Support or Diversity and Inclusion, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.dca.org.au/inclusion-at-work-index/findings/discrimination-harassment

[xi] Carers Australia 2021, The Benefits of Investing in Carers at Work, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.carersaustralia.com.au/about-carers/carers-in-the-workplace/

[xii] WGEA, 2016, Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.wgea.gov.au/publications/unpaid-care-work-and-the-labour-market

[xiii] WGEA, 2021, Gender Workplace Statistics at a Glance 2020, viewed 15 February, available: https://www.wgea.gov.au/publications/gender-workplace-statistics-at-a-glance-2021

[xiv] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2012, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release

[xv] ibid.

[xvi] Carers NSW (2020) 2020 National Carer Survey: Summary report, and SDAC 2018

[xvii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2012, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release

[xviii] ibid.

[xix] Diversity Council Australia, 2018, Male Carer ‘Career Trap’ Stalling Gender Equality, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.dca.org.au/media-releases/male-carer-career-trap-stalling-gender-equality

[xx] Carers NSW (2020) 2020 National Carer Survey : Summary report, available: https://www.carersnsw.org.au/about-us/our-research/carer-survey and Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/disability/disability-ageing-and-carers-australia-summary-findings/latest-release#carers

[xxi] Diversity Council Australia 2018, 'Male carer ‘career trap’ stalling gender equality', viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.dca.org.au/media-releases/male-carer-career-trap-stalling-gender-equality

[xxii] WGEA 2021, Data Explore, viewed 15 February, available: data.wgea.gov.au

[xxiii] Carers NSW (2020) 2020 National Carer Survey : Summary report, available: https://www.carersnsw.org.au/about-us/our-research/carer-survey

[xxiv] Parents at Work, 2016, Three Strategies to Support Employees Who Are Carers, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://parentsandcarersatwork.com/three-strategies-to-support-employees-who-are-carers/

[xxv] Diversity Council Australia, 2020, D&I 101: Conducting a Diversity Survey, viewed 15 February 2021, available: https://www.dca.org.au/research/project/di-101-conducting-diversity-survey