Gender and diversity in the community service sector

Gender and diversity in the community service sector

With almost one million people engaged in paid employment in community services occupations, representing around 8 per cent of Australia’s workforce, you might think that gender and diversity would be key qualities of the workforce behind the provision of services to a diverse community setting.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2014, of the over one million paid employees in the community services sector, three in four workers (74 per cent) are directly employed in delivering community service occupations, such as child care workers, homelessness services, nurses working in hospitals and counsellors in the education sector. Another one in four (26 per cent) were employed in other occupations in associated community services industries, such as administrators, accountants, tradespersons and labourers.

Significantly for the sector, the number of workers in overall community services industries grew by an impressive 54 per cent in the ten years from 2004 to 2014 compared to a growth of 21 per cent in the number of people employed in all industries over the same period.

The community services sector is at the forefront of providing services to and advocating on behalf of diverse groups across the community and we have a good idea of the gender mix and the age breakdown of the workforce. However, looking at cultural and ethnic inclusion across the sector is somewhat more of a challenge.

When we talk about gender in the community services sector, it is important to note that we are referring to the binary definition of male and female because that is the only measurement for data collection on gender we have at this point in time. As one might expect, the gender balance swings heavily to female employees in the community services sector in most of the workforce groupings – i.e. early childhood education and care services, child protection services, disability services, homelessness services and aged care services.

Broadly speaking, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) in the latest Community Sector Survey 2014, places the gender balance in the community services sector to be 80 per cent female and 20 per cent male; however if we look at each workforce sector grouping separately we can see how the gender divide is more pronounced is some industries rather than others:

Community Service Sector Female Employees Male Employees
Early childhood education and care services 94% 6%
Child protection services* 84% - 89% 16% - 11%
Disability services 81% 19%
Homelessness services 77% 23%
Aged and disability care services 89% 11%+

* Depending on jurisdiction
+ An increase from 7 per cent in 2007 

Age demographics in the community sector present another interesting observation with the breakdown heavily weighted to an older workforce demographic:

  • < 25 years of age = 1%
  • 26 – 35 years of age = 11%
  • 36 – 49 years of age = 33%
  • 50 – 65 years of age = 49%
  • > 65 years of age = 6%

In terms of cultural inclusivity in the workplace in the community sector, hard data on this topic is not easy to find. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data on Australia’s welfare workforce 2015 tells us that one third of the overseas-born workers in residential aged care facilities had been in Australia for 5 years or less and they were coming from countries in which English is not the primary language (e.g. India, China and the Philippines).

In March 2016, Pro Bono Australia (PBA) actually looked at how Not-For-Profit (NFP) organisations are adopting best practice in creating inclusive workplaces in Australia and found the evidence of this surprisingly thin on the ground, despite attempts to get some facts and figures from both the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Diversity Council Australia.

PBA did however interview Professor Carol Kulik, from the University of South Australia, who was involved in producing the Making Diversity Work report, in conjunction with the University of Melbourne Business School. This project conducted a ‘diversity audit’ of 800 organisations of which 20 per cent were from the public and NFP sector.

Professor Kulik said that while organisations have good intentions, not all have adopted best practice in creating a culturally inclusive workplace. One concern raised by Professor Kulik in the management of diversity in the workplace by NFPs is that many organisations in the sector are small – and small organisations have small budgets and limited resources, which limits their capacity to invest in diversity management practices – even though they really care about diversity within their organisations.

PBA also spoke with CEO of Welcome to Australia, Mohammad Al-Khafaji who was also cautious in his views of how the community sector is embracing cultural diversity. He believes many of the larger NFP organisations like Australian Red Cross, who have been working for longer in the diversity area, are in a better space to lead by example in showing the sector how to embrace inclusiveness within the workplace.

A very interesting podcast Walking the Talk in Diversity by PBA is available at:    

For further insights into our understanding, experience and capability in the Not-For-Profit and community services sector, please contact Campaign Capital.

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