Women in property

Should we be surprised that more women are employed in Canberra than any other part of Australia?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that the ACT has the lowest gap between male and female workforce participation in the country – 8.6 per cent compared with a national average of 13.1 per cent.

The fact that Canberra has the nation’s most highly educated and highly remunerated women is only part of the story.

Equally important – and rarely considered – is the fact that work, for most Canberrans, is just 20 minutes away.

Anyone who’s been stuck in Sydney’s traffic gridlock or caught on a Melbourne tram during a heatwave knows the challenges faced by commuters in other states.  When you’re chasing the clock to do the childcare pickup, it can be an absolute nightmare.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the further you travel from the CBD, the lower the female workforce participation rate.  In some outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, the gap is as much as 20 per cent.

Social researchers have called this phenomenon the ‘spatial leash’. 

The Grattan Institute’s Productive Cities report, for instance, argues that since women more frequently have primary responsibility for the care of young children and aged relatives, they often need to be within a short journey time of home.  “Greater numbers of women may therefore be unable or unwilling to take up jobs that require a longer commute.”

So, how do we close the participation gap, and ensure Canberra women continue to have the best employment opportunities in the nation? 

As our city grows, we need to invest in new infrastructure, and increase the supply of housing in existing suburbs to enable more people to live closer to where they work.

We rarely think about urban planning as a ‘women’s issue’ but encouraging women back into the workforce requires more than paid maternity leave and good childcare.  It also requires that we think carefully about how we design and build our cities.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia