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Women in Western Sydney a powerhouse of untapped potential

11:00am March 14 2024

From left: Westpac Business Bank Chief Economist Besa Deda, Westpac Regional General Manager, Western Sydney Ron Coskerie, University of Western Sydney Chancellor Jennifer Westacott, and Director of the Centre for Western Sydney Dr Rhonda Itaoui. (Supplied)

Women in Western Sydney are a powerhouse of untapped potential and getting more of them into work could add billions of dollars of value to the New South Wales economy.

A report by the Centre for Western Sydney found that many well-educated women from the region were staying out of the workforce for a range of structural, cultural and socio-economic reasons. The female labour force participation rate in Western Sydney lags the Sydney average by 11 percentage points, the study showed. In some LGAs of Western Sydney, the participation rate is devastatingly low.

Boosting female participation in the region could unlock up to $34.6 billion of additional gross value for the NSW economy, as well as adding around 83,000 more women to the state’s labour force, the report found.

“Unlocking women’s workforce potential across the nation is about maximising the talents of 50 per cent of the population. That some of those talents remain ignored or hidden, especially in Western Sydney, is a travesty,” Jennifer Westacott, Chancellor of Western Sydney University and former CEO of the Business Council of Australia, said in an introduction to the report. 

The roadblocks women face can include a lack of affordable childcare, limited transport links and long commutes, language barriers, limited digital literacy, unconcscious bias, the failure of employers to recognise international qualifications, and entrenched gender norms resulting in a high share of caregiving responsibilities falling to women. 

Speaking at an International Women’s Day event hosted by the Centre for Western Sydney earlier this month, Westpac Business Bank Chief Economist Besa Deda said there was no shortage of women in the region aspiring to emulate successful businesswomen such as Melanie Perkins, Zoe Foster Blake, even Taylor Swift.

“A common thread in my conversations with business and community leaders in Western Sydney is that while a growing number of women are ready to take the plunge and start their own business, and work incredibly hard, they often lack the financial literacy lens required to grow the business.

“There are resources available to help them with that, but they can be hard to find, overwhelming, or not pitched at the right level,” she added.

Besa in conversation at the International Women’s Day event. (Supplied)

Improving financial literacy can be a great leveller for women, Deda said, giving them the skills they need to manage the family finances, run a successful business, and have a greater influence over the policy decisions that impact on their lives. 

For that reason, Deda would like to see financial literacy taught as early as primary school, and studying economics be made compulsory in the early years of high school. For women in Western Sydney from a migrant background, a greater focus on providing resources where financial literacy is pitched at the right level would be great to see, she adds. 

"This is why the Centre for Western Sydney's report is so critical. It provides us with the hard data on the region, which gives policymakers a greater capacity to make informed policy decisions to better enable women."

At a broader level, the report recommends a coordinated approach to increasing female workforce participation in Western Sydney, involving educational institutions, local businesses, community organisations and all levels of government. 

The key areas of focus should be on enhancing educational pathways, improving workplace integration and inclusivity, and “reimagining” childcare solutions. 

“Western Sydney is such a vibrant, fast-growing place, and much progress has been made. But there’s still lots more to be done to unlock the huge potential for women in the region,” Deda said. 

Kripa Krithivasan joined Westpac Wire in 2022 as a News Reporter. After starting her career at Westpac in 2016, Kripa took some time off to host one of Australia’s most popular podcasts for South Asian Australians, Uncultured the Podcast, and is passionate about giving marginalised voices a platform. When she’s not at work, Kripa dabbles in a bit of stand-up comedy and Bharatnatyam - classical Indian dance.

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