A “part-time promotion cliff” is limiting career progression for many Australian workers and contributing to the ongoing gender pay gap, according to new data.

Data released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) on Wednesday revealed that while 21 per cent of employees in Australia worked part-time in 2022-23, just 7 per cent of managers are employed part-time.

This data indicates the existence of a “promotion cliff” for part time workers, WGEA CEO Mary Woolridge said, with little career progression and opportunities for Australians who want or need to work part-time.

“There is effectively a ‘promotion cliff’ for part-time workers in Australia,” Woolridge 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.”

The data is drawn from WGEA’s Employer Census, which tracks trends and performance on gender equality in Australian workplaces and is based on reports by all private sector companies in the country with 100 or more employees.

The report shows that there has been little improvement in the number of part-time management roles available in Australia over recent years.

There has been an increase of just 1 per cent in these positions from 2018-19.

The data also reveals that the number of these managers working part-time declines with seniority, with just 5 per cent of key management personnel and 3 per cent of CEOs working part-time.

Females worst affected

With 30 per cent of women working part-time compared to 11 per cent of men, this gap in promotional opportunities for part-time workers is contributing to Australia’s gender pay gap, Woolridge said.

“Women are more likely to want or need to work part-time, and sometimes more than once in their careers,” she said.

“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.”

The WGEA data also revealed that while female-dominated industries employ a higher number of part-time managers, women are actually proportionately more likely to be working part-time in a managerial role in a male-dominated industry.

Woolridge said this shows that companies in female-dominated industries need to look at what can be done to ensure more part-time workers can progress to management positions, and that all industries need to challenge these existing norms.

“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,” Woolridge said.

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

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

The full WGEA Employer Census will be released along with the Gender Equality Scorecard at the end of November.

The role of WGEA

WGEA was established in late 2012 and sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Under the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, private sector companies with 100 or more employees are required to submit gender equality metrics to the agency annually, including on workplace participation, women’s representation in leadership, and employer actions to improve gender equality.

After passing legislation earlier this year, this data is set to be made public at the start of next year on the WGEA’s website.

In late 2024 or early the following year, Commonwealth public sector organisations with 100 or more employees will also be required to provide this information, and it will be made public.

WGEA’s data has previously revealed that the gender pay gap in Australia is 13 per cent, down just 0.3 per cent from the previous year. This means that on average women are earning $13,120 less per year than men, and earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

The public release of gender equality data will “promote accountability and encourage accelerated action and change within organisations towards closing the gender pay gap,” the federal government said earlier this year.