Count Her In: Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment

IPAA Queensland’s 2024 International Women’s Day ‘Stewards on the Couch’ 

Download the report prepared by IPAA Queensland and ANZSOG.

Progress is hard to win, it’s hard to maintain, and it’s important that we never take it for granted.’ 

IPAA Queensland was pleased to host over 150 public purpose professionals at our 2024 International Women’s Day Event, supported by our major sponsor Luminary and delivered in collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). 

The theme for IWD 2024 was Count Her In: Accelerating Gender Equality Through Economic Empowerment. An important and timely theme focusing on the importance of facilitating women’s economic empowerment and the central role it plays to achieving gender equality. When women are given equal opportunities to earn, learn and lead – the community thrives. Goals of economic empowerment, gender equality and thriving communities are essential goals for governments at all levels and jurisdictions.   

Public policy and public administration offer key levers for promoting and achieving economic empowerment of women through education, workforce participation and breaking down barriers to professional growth. This event explored these opportunities though an impressive panel of leaders who drawn on their diverse perspectives and wisdom to challenge thinking about what economic empowerment means and the role we all play in supporting this outcome.    

In keeping with the spirit and theme of International Women’s Day in 2024, this event put a call on all leaders and allies to “count her in” and better understanding the true benefit of equity and diversity.   

What insights were shared?  How is the state of Queensland progressing towards gender equality and equity?  This report, developed collaboratively between ANZSOG and IPAA Queensland aims to share the latest. 

Note: the quotes used throughout this report haven’t been attributed to a specific speaker.  Quotes used reflect the speakers knowledge, expertise and experience; and, do not reflect the views of their employer. 

1. Where are we up to with women’s economic empowerment?

IWD speakers identified that the analysis of contemporary data focused on women’s economic circumstances illuminated many challenges. It was also broadly acknowledged by speakers that the publication of Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s report of gender pay gaps this year was a historic step towards transparency and accountability based on the principles of public interest, integrity, and trust.  

A significant statistic shared in the report revealed that salaries favoured men in more than 60% of the companies evaluated and that the gender pay gap in some of Australia’s largest enterprises was as high as 40%.  

These economic disparities create lifelong impact. 

The disparities in work life earning between men and women reflects the impact of a variety of social and economic factors, which, when combined, lead to a difference in the economic circumstances for women and men.  

For example:  

  • Gender continues to play an important role in the division of labour and caring activity within the economy, with significant implications for the distribution of income and wealth. Gender inequality drives inequality in economic opportunity and outcomes.  
  • The ‘motherhood penalty’ is alive and well with female labour participation rates remaining much lower than men’s in the primary childbearing age cohorts.  
  • Women on average have a superannuation balance around 21% lower than men in Queensland. And in 2020, the Australian Treasury Retirement Income Review found that the main driver of the superannuation gap at retirement was a gap between men and women’s working life earnings. 
  • Despite women having higher educational attainment on average, men continue to be more likely to be employed, earn more on average, be in decision-making positions, and engage more in entrepreneurship. Women are also more likely to be working in roles that they’re over-qualified for and are more likely to be working in roles that they’re under-qualified for.  

We need to make better use of Queensland’s talented women.’ 

Discrimination often hides in plain sight. 

Our IWD Speakers noted that discrimination against women often hides in plain sight – embedded within historical laws, policies and systems; and, that in order to count women in, and to accelerate women’s economic empowerment requires us to address these systemic issues. 

‘If you see a space where there are not equal outcomes for men and women, keep digging. There are answers in there, and there’s a lot of biases hiding in plain sight.’ 

To accelerate women’s economic empowerment we need to review our policies and laws. 

Modernising laws for greater accountability has been a challenge. Often, public sector legislation may have mentioned equal employment opportunity, but there were few penalties and no accountability. Modernised legislation, including the Queensland Public Sector Act, make equity, diversity, respect, and inclusion provisions more prominent, with new accountabilities for chief executives.  

Discrimination and barriers also hide in industrial relations and human resource processes. Many public sector agencies have equity and diversity plans; however, they often look the same.  A modern approach to equity and diversity planning requires identification of where the inequities are before plans are written to ensure they are fit for purpose in all contexts and specific to an organisation’s own circumstances.  

  • For example, reviewing recruitment is important. If the only way you can bring new people into your agency is through recruitment, the only way you can bring diversity in is through operationalising successful and equitable recruitment processes. Within these current processes, merit’ often takes a narrow and technical focus.  It is time to broaden this technical and historical view. 
  • In Queensland’s new Public Sector Act, new provisions balance merit and equity. First, people must be able to do the role.  Beyond that, consideration can be given to three things— past performance, future contribution to the organisation, and how that appointment would help to achieve the organisation’s equity and diversity goals.  
  • We also need to count women in safely.  Women have experienced sexual harassment in workplaces for as long as workplaces have existed. We know that it is significantly under-reported, and when it is reported, it tends to be tangled up in overly formal and secretive processes. New processes are needed that are person-centered, gender informed, and trauma informed.  

Strengthening government policy requires focus to remove the barriers that girls and women face in making decisions and exercising their choice to participate in work and family life. This emphasises improvement of systems and culture. For example, the Queensland state budget includes a women’s budget statement that contains a full range of measures in place to address gender inequality and improve economic outcomes for women and girls. This is a fantastic step in the right direction.  This, plus seeing governments increasingly focused on ensuring policies are inclusive and use gender-responsive budgeting are all measures that will help see the gap between genders slowly start to close.  

‘This is a proactive way we can ensure women’s voices and experiences can be more fully represented in policy making and an important step towards economic empowerment of women.’ 

There are economic benefits to ‘counting her in’.  

Developing and implementing better public policies to accelerate women’s economic empowerment is crucial. Additionally, it is also crucial for policymakers to understand that closing the current gender gap leads to significant economic benefits. The OECD has estimated that closing the gap between female and male labour force participation and working hours could increase annual growth in GDP per capita, a standard sign of material living standards, by as much as 0.23 percentage points per year. That’s equivalent to nearly a 10% increase in GDP across the OECD by 2060 compared with baseline projections. Some countries, including Australia with a larger gender gap than the OECD average, have the potential to gain more. The potential to realise greater economic benefit is just another reason to ‘Count her in’.   

Addressing gender inequality is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for the economy.  Addressing gender inequality provides an opportunity to lift productivity, drive economic growth, and ultimately improve living standards, which matter for us all.’ 

2. Dimensions for Empowerment: New Visions for Policy

‘…the challenges we face in this of course are not just great, but they’re complex. They’re historical, they’re recent past, but they’re very much present day. They’re structural, but they’re also behavioural. They’re social, they’re cultural, they’re economic, and they are visible as much as they are invisible.’ 

As mentioned in the introduction, public policy and public administration offer key levers for promoting and achieving economic empowerment of women, however, even in 2024 systems must be re-shaped, and barriers removed from key policies and programs.  

Thinkers like Mazzucato take a broader perspective.  To reshape existing systems and remove barriers, she argues that first you must imagine a different world, then create policy missions to achieve that vision, and develop governance, structures, capacity, and partnerships that will support those new directions. These mission-oriented policies must be led by the state and supported by a proactive and innovative public sector (Mazzucato, 2011; 2018; 2021).  

While much discussion focuses on gender gaps in the working years and the motherhood penalty, IWD Speakers all noted the importance of understanding the formative years for women, including their experiences of barriers, systems and social expectations during childhood and adolescence.  

Families and communities are pivotal to success. 

Mazzucato (2021) writes that women put life at the centre of economics, not economics at the centre of life.  From this perspective, understanding life pathways and journeys of women are an important resource for understanding how progress is made, how systems must be reformed, and barriers removed.  

IWD speakers provided insights into how they, their families, and communities had all been engaged in the struggle for women’s equality and empowerment. Families and communities were central to encouraging young women’s aspirations and shaping their ambitions. Families and communities are also important to fighting for inclusion and providing support to navigate systems and barriers.  

‘I think also my parents were really pushing me to be included. They took me everywhere, they included me, they fought for me to get education.’ 

‘I was the first person in my family to go to university.’ 

‘…both my parents were an inspiration to me. They instilled in me the values of integrity, hard work, and having a keen sense of social justice. That was my household, that was my life.’ 

‘…In my formative years, I had a constant feeling I had to prove myself. In my childhood, the gender divide was just so obvious to me, and I just saw it as so inherently unfair.’

Leaping over invisible barriers to extend into new domains  

Most IWD speakers encountered invisible barriers along their career pathway, often at the intersection of gender and other challenges they experienced in their personal lives. Two attributes were noted as important to navigating these inviable challenges: agility and persistence.  

‘…constantly it was like being a girl was a real disadvantage because it held me back from what I wanted to do growing up.’ 

‘No matter how many resumes I put in, I never got the call back.’  

‘…Women might be reluctant to apply, but once they do, they’re very competitive candidates.’ 

‘… when we talk about glass ceilings for First Nations women, we might as well be talking about double-glazed ceilings… and a sticky floor where women are generally in base level positions.’ 

To this end, focusing on traditional areas of economic policy—education, employment pathways, financial services, and literacy policy—are not enough. Policies aimed at supporting women in non-traditional education and employment areas are critical.  

‘…we need a balanced workforce across all sectors, supporting women to actually be confident in that space…(and) we need to actually deconstruct those stereotypes about skill, about strength, about resilience.’ 

Ensuring that we are visible, and our expertise and experience are acknowledged and utilised, is crucial. 

IWD Speakers all argued that visibility, expertise, and achievement were important to making empowered progress.  

‘Once I got to university, I achieved along the same timeframe as other people for the first time…’ 

‘…I think that having that strong knowledge of my sector has really helped me to consolidate my career.’ 

‘’…women must be part of the conversation and be a part of those policy decisions. And so, I determined that in my really small way in the role that I have, I am going to try and make sure that we have those perspectives, that we have inclusive policy and an evidence-based approach to policy development.’  

IWD speakers also noted the importance of not only new policy development, but greater visibility and leadership within these processes, using women’s data, evidence, and their ideas. Visibility in data can never be taken for granted. Women can be invisible in datasets, for example, where assumptions are made about professions (doctors, professors) and gender. In the digital age, data visibility is important.   

Further to this form of visibility, women need a visible and active seat at the table when policy conversations and decisions are happening. Their voices need to be heard at these tables.  Progressive policy review must consider people’s life courses and accommodate them.  

‘…it’s about meeting everyone’s needs in the workplace, are having everyone’s voice in the discussion and so we need to take different approaches.’ 

Recognising and empowering women’s unique leadership styles  

New styles of leadership are necessary for greater empowerment.  First Nations cultural leadership emphasizes the role of multiple knowledge holders and the need for shared leadership, recognizing that effective leadership is a collaborative effort, not the sole responsibility of a single individual.  To this end, every team member possesses unique skills, perspectives and expertise that contribute to the overall success. 

We see there is now a time and a place that we can reclaim, revitalize, and restore these ancient practices in the work that we do through shared and collaborative leadership. 


Mazzucato (2018) argues for an entrepreneurial state, one that is far more proactive and innovative. Instead of waiting to be given the opportunity to be equal, women can become more entrepreneurial and empowered to create our own opportunities and extend those opportunities to others.  

To this end, how we harness the entrepreneurialism of public sector (and indeed the broader corporate sector) women is important to how we accelerate women’s economic empowerment.  

‘I exhort you when you return to your workplaces and your families to start to think perhaps differently about how you might take your own responsibility forward in the challenge of accelerating gender equality through economic empowerment. How can you even in little ways improve women’s journeys through your own professional leadership? How can you create windows of opportunity for others? How can you encourage greater entrepreneurism in your own professional practice and that of the women around you?’ 

The voices shared across the IWD event in 2024 illuminated the reality of the current state of play.  The gender gap is still very much alive in Queensland and Australia, but progress, while in small doses, is starting to take effect; with great improvements being realised. 

The next steps are clear, but large, complex, and require the investment and input of many players.  It is through effective collaboration and active participation that economies should start to see greater strides being taken to ensure that women are counted in. 

Let’s get to work. 

IPAA Queensland thanks our event collaborators, the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) and our Stewards on the Couch series sponsor Luminary for helping us to challenge thinking and keep you informed.


Mazzucato, M. (2011) The entrepreneurial state Soundings, Number 49, Winter 2011, pp. 131-142(12).  

Mazzucato, M. (2018) ‘Mission-oriented innovation policies: challenges and opportunities’ Industrial and Corporate Change, Volume 27, Issue 5, October 2018, Pages 803–815 

Mazzucato, M. (2018). The entrepreneurial state. Penguin Books. 

Mazzucato, M. (2021). Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism. Penguin Books.