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It’s a long way to the top (if you’re a woman working in the NSW social sector)


16 March 2022 at 3:55 pm
Maggie Coggan
Despite women making up 75 per cent of the workforce in NSW, they account for just 20 per cent of board chairs in larger organisations


Maggie Coggan | 16 March 2022 at 3:55 pm


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It’s a long way to the top (if you’re a woman working in the NSW social sector)
16 March 2022 at 3:55 pm

Despite women making up 75 per cent of the workforce in NSW, they account for just 20 per cent of board chairs in larger organisations

Women working in social services in New South Wales are faced with one of the country’s widest gender [pay] gaps, are less likely to be in key leadership positions and experience a high degree of job insecurity, new research reveals.

The latest report from the New South Wales Council of Social Services (NCOSS), which included a survey of 560 workers in the sector, found that while 75 per cent of the social sector workforce is female, just 20 per cent of board chairs in larger organisations were women. When it came to CEO positions, less than half were held by women.

Respondents said this was partially because of a lack of professional development and training opportunities to help women rise through the ranks of an organisation. 

One respondent said it was particularly difficult in smaller organisations. 

“Smaller community organisations have small staff numbers and flat management hierarchies due to low level funding and funding that specifically forbids allocating funds to administration/management,” the respondent said. 

An even wider pay gap for women in the social services industry 

While Australia’s overall national gender pay gap sits at 14.2 per cent (14.5 per cent in NSW), the gap widens to 20.7 per cent for women working in the social sector. And if you are in a leadership role in the sector, this figure jumps to 27.1 per cent. 

The report said this was predominantly because wages in the social services sector, for roles such as a child care or aged care worker, were often close to or at the minimum wage, despite these jobs requiring further study and qualifications. 

Joanna Quilty, CEO of NCOSS, said that the fact highly qualified professionals in the sector were earning wages well-below those in more male-dominted professions showed the system was flawed. 

“We see entry level positions earning an hourly rate barely above minimum wage and below what a retail assistant earns at Bunnings,” Quilty said. 

“We’re supporting calls for an increase of 25 per cent for aged care workers, extending the

government’s paid parental leave scheme and ensuring it’s shared across both the primary and secondary carer. 

She added that with social sector staff on the front lines of every disaster, providing staff with proper support was necessary to keep good staff in the industry. 

“This research shows we need a strategic approach to leadership, career pathways and workforce development in the social services sector. And we need to be providing women in this essential industry with well-paid secure jobs and conditions commensurate with other industries,” she said. 

“If we get this right, the benefits for women, those in our communities doing it tough, and for the broader NSW economy will be huge.

“This is a vital sector that keeps the wheels turning and the most vulnerable, supported. It deserves to be treated as such.”

See a full copy of the report here. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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