Women want COVID-19 flexibility to stay: survey

| November 13, 2020

Working from home during COVID-19 brought meaningful flexible work to the NSW public sector and allowed women to balance their jobs and lives, according to the Public Service Association’s first ever What Women Want survey.

The union surveyed more than 5000 of its female members during the first-half of 2020. It found despite the public service policy of “if not, why not” towards flexible work, prior to COVID-19 one in 10 requests had been rejected, and there was often a cultural bias against working from home and other flexible arrangements.

“COVID-19 has done away with many old fashioned ideas about office-based productivity,” said Stewart Little, general secretary of the PSA. “It’s clear the women of NSW’s public service want to see this flexibility continue.

“What concerns us is that the experience of public sector women isn’t reflecting the policies in place. Women were telling us up until COVID-19 securing consistent work from home and other flexible options were often rejected, or looked upon with suspicion.

“Meaningful flexible work for women isn’t about taking Zoom meetings at home. It is about making work fit with the reality of women’s lives – such as offering more job sharing and part-time roles.”

For prison officer Nicole Jess working rostered hours doesn’t offer much in the way of flexible work, but if women could job share more easily it would make it easier for them to return from maternity leave, or work part-time.

“Prisons are long term, secure work – but we need to make the availability of work there more flexible,” said Ms Jess. “If women could job share or more easily go part-time that would be a huge plus.

“We also need to see more women promoted into managerial roles, so that we can have more diversity in who is leading our prisons and managing officers.”

The significant gender pay gap within the NSW government also remains an ongoing concern to the union. The current pay gap is 2.2% or $2002 on a median salary, but this may disguise a trend, with fewer women in senior positions.

“Women were telling us the wage gaps persists because men are appointed to the high-paid positions,” said Mr Little. “But there are also systemic problems, were female-dominated sectors are underpaid.”

The union has had significant success in addressing the systemic gender pay gap in NSW’s schools, winning a 19% pay rise in its ground breaking pay equity for school support officers in 2019.