From Suburban Housewives to CEOs: The Evolution of Women’s Rights from the 1950s to the 2020s

From Suburban Housewives to CEOs: The Evolution of Women’s Rights from the 1950s to the 2020s

In the past seven decades, the rights of women have undergone a remarkable transformation, breaking free from the shackles of societal expectations and discriminatory norms. From the 1950s to the 2020s, women have not only challenged stereotypes but have also demanded and secured their rightful place in every facet of life. In 2024, WGEA will be publishing employer gender pay gaps

Let’s look at some of the other gender equality differences through the decades in Australia.

1950s – The Era of Suburban Housewives: The 1950s was marked by the image of the idealized suburban housewife, who was expected to find fulfillment solely within the domestic sphere. Legal rights were limited, with many women struggling to secure financial independence. The pay gap was stark, with women’s minimum wage set at 75% of men’s wages.

  • “The Marriage Bar” imposed restrictions on women employed in the field of education, preventing them from continuing to teach after getting married. Restrictions were lifted in 1956.
  • School education focused on traditional “female” skills in sewing and cooking. Society generally perceived that higher education was wasted on girls as they should pursue their vocation in home-making.
Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner chained to the rail of the bar in the Regatta Hotel Brisbane on 31 March 1965.  Picture by Bruce Postle RA212-2 pub 1/4/65 The Courier-Mail Photo Archive.

Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner chained to the rail of the bar in the Regatta Hotel Brisbane on 31 March 1965.  Picture by Bruce Postle RA212-2 pub 1/4/65 The Courier-Mail Photo Archive.

1960s – The Rise of Feminism: The 1960s witnessed the rise of the feminist movement, challenging societal norms and advocating for gender equality. The introduction of the birth control pill in 1960 empowered women to take control of their reproductive rights, paving the way for increased educational and career opportunities. However, the pay gap persisted, and discriminatory laws hindered women’s progress.

  • Contraceptive pill became available to women with a prescription and had a 27.5% “luxury” tax.
  • Indigenous Australians were given the right to enrol and vote in Federal Elections in 1962.
  • Women won the right to drink in a public bar in 1965.
  • Women working in public service were no longer forced to resign after getting married in 1966.
  • In 1967, Indigenous Australian were recognised as Australian Citizens.
  • In 1969, abortions were ruled as legal, based on a woman’s physical and mental wellbeing being in serious danger.

1970s – The 1970s marked significant legal milestones for Australian women. The introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, or marital status. These legal changes aimed to dismantle systemic barriers, fostering a more inclusive society.  Many of the changes were effected due to significant campaigning by women’s liberation activities.

  • The Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) became the first bank to grant loans to women without requiring a male guarantor.
  • The Women’s Electoral Lobby was formed in 1972.
  • In 1972, the “luxury” tax for all contraceptives was abolished and the pill was placed on the National Health Scheme.
  • Federal Child Care Act was passed in 1972, providing centre-based day care for children of sick and working parents.
  • The Single Mother’s Benefit was introduced in 1972 providing financial assistance to single women who were not eligible to the Widow’s pension.
  • In 1973, paid maternity leave became available for Commonwealth Public Servants.
  • Elizabeth Reid was appointed as the first Women’s Advisor to the Prime Minister in 1973.
  • In 1974, the minimum wage was extended to include women workers.
  • Dame Margaret Guilfoyle became the first women to be appointed to a Federal Cabinet as a Minister.
  • The Family Law Act in 1975 established the principle of no-fault divorce.
  • In 1975, the Racial Discrimination Act passed, making racial discrimination in certain contexts unlawful.
8 March 1975 at the first International Women's Day rally held in Australia.  National Archives of Australia

8 March 1975 at the first International Women’s Day rally held in Australia.  National Archives of Australia

    1980s – Breaking the Glass Ceiling: The 1980s saw more women entering the workforce, challenging traditional gender roles. However, the glass ceiling remained a formidable barrier to women’s advancement into leadership roles. The pay gap persisted, highlighting the need for further progress in workplace equality.

    • Married women were no longer required to provide their husband’s authorisation when applying for a passport in 1983.
    • In 1984, the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, to ensure women would have equal access to employment, services and accommodation and prohibited sexual harassment.

    1990s – Shifting Paradigms: The 1990s witnessed a shift in societal attitudes towards women’s roles. Women began to break into traditionally male-dominated fields, challenging stereotypes and inspiring future generations. However, the pay gap and challenges in achieving work-life balance continued to persist.

    • 1999 – Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act (EEOWA) introduced

    2000s – Digital Age and Advocacy: The 2000s ushered in the digital age, providing a platform for women to advocate for their rights on a global scale. Social media became a powerful tool for organizing movements and highlighting issues such as the gender pay gap. The push for gender equality gained momentum, leading to increased awareness and policy discussions.

    • 2009 – Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave scheme
    • Fair Work Act defines equal pay more broadly as ‘equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value’

    2010s – #MeToo Movement and Corporate Accountability: The #MeToo movement, which gained momentum in the late 2010s, brought attention to issues of sexual harassment and assault, sparking a global conversation about workplace culture. Corporations faced increased pressure to address gender inequality, leading to initiatives promoting diversity and inclusion.

    • 2012 – Workplace Gender Equality Act introduced

    2020s – Towards Equality: As we step into the 2020s, progress continues but challenges persist. The gender pay gap remains a pressing issue, and women are still underrepresented in leadership roles. Advocacy for equal pay, parental leave, and flexible work arrangements continues to shape the narrative, pushing society towards a more inclusive and equitable future.

    From the confines of the 1950s suburban household to the boardrooms of the 2020s, the journey of women’s rights is a testament to resilience, advocacy, and societal evolution. While substantial progress has been made, the fight for true gender equality persists, reminding us that the battle is far from over. As we reflect on the past, let us continue to strive for a future where women’s rights are not just acknowledged but fully realized in every aspect of life.



    Equal Pay Day

    Gender Equality Timeline

    This Year Brings Hope for Gender Equity: New Regulations Propel Action

    This Year Brings Hope for Gender Equity: New Regulations Propel Action

    This year, there is renewed hope for advancing gender equity in Australia, driven by significant legislative changes that are compelling employers to confront longstanding issues of inequality and discrimination. The introduction of mandatory reporting of gender pay gap figures, coupled with the heightened risk of breaching the new Psychosocial Hazards Act, is compelling employers to prioritize transparency and address the systemic barriers that hinder women’s progress in the workplace.

    The implementation of mandatory reporting requirements for gender pay gap figures represents a pivotal step towards greater transparency and accountability in addressing wage disparities between men and women. By shining a spotlight on pay discrepancies, these regulations are forcing employers to confront inequities head-on and take concrete steps to rectify them. This heightened scrutiny not only raises awareness of the persistent gender pay gap but also incentivizes employers to proactively address underlying issues contributing to wage disparities.

    “We can attribute a roughly 40% decrease in the gender pay gap following pay transparency.” Says Tomasz Obloj, associate professor of strategy and business policy at HEC Paris business school and co-author of the study, of nearly 100,000 academics across the US on the public displaying employee salaries.

    Furthermore, the introduction of the Psychosocial Hazards Act underscores the growing recognition of the detrimental impact of workplace discrimination, harassment, and other psychosocial hazards on employees’ well-being. Employers now face increased pressure to create safe and supportive work environments that prioritize the mental health and dignity of all employees, regardless of gender. Failure to address psychosocial hazards not only risks legal repercussions but also damages organizational reputation and employee morale.

    These legislative developments are catalysing a paradigm shift in how employers approach gender equity and workplace culture. Organizations are increasingly recognizing the business imperative of fostering diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplaces that empower all employees to thrive. By promoting transparency, accountability, and proactive measures to address gender disparities and psychosocial hazards, employers can cultivate a culture of trust, fairness, and equality that benefits employees and the organization as a whole.

    Moreover, these regulatory changes are driving broader societal conversations about gender equity and challenging entrenched norms and attitudes. Employers, policymakers, and civil society are increasingly collaborating to dismantle systemic barriers to women’s advancement and create opportunities for meaningful change. This collective momentum is fuelling optimism that tangible progress towards gender equity is not only possible but imminent.

    In conclusion, the convergence of mandatory reporting of gender pay gap figures and the introduction of the Psychosocial Hazards Act represents a watershed moment for gender equity in Australia. Employers are now compelled to confront issues of inequality and discrimination with unprecedented transparency and urgency. While challenges remain, this year holds promise for meaningful strides towards a more equitable and inclusive future where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive in the workplace and beyond.

    Shaping A Future That Knows No Bias And Celebrates Gender Parity

    Shaping A Future That Knows No Bias And Celebrates Gender Parity

    Protiviti, global consulting firm, envisions a future where gender parity is not merely a goal but a resounding commitment, guided by the unwavering belief that a balanced and equitable future is within our reach as we navigate the path to inclusivity.

    In pursuing gender parity, Protiviti’s commitment is brought to life through concrete actions and cultural shifts led by Garran Duncan, managing director and former country market lead at Protiviti Australia. Over the past five years, the leadership team at Protiviti has been instrumental in championing initiatives that actively support and empower women. Some of the changes are:

    1. Cultivating a culture of gender equity: This involves more than just policy changes; it’s about having open discussions at forums like town halls and setting transparent targets. Leaders prioritise inclusivity by engaging with everyone, not just a select group. Recently, both Protiviti and Garran were honoured as finalists by Business in Heels, Recalibrate Gender Equity Awards, acknowledging our commitment to workplace equity.

    Tag: Managing director and former country market lead, Garran Duncan along with other finalists at the Business in Heels, Recalibrate Gender Equity Awards. 

    2. Empowering women in leadership: Striving for balanced gender representation, we’re working towards achieving a 50/50 ratio in managing director and director leadership roles at Protiviti. We’ve made significant strides, –and Garran recently appointed outstanding managing director Lauren Brown to take on his role as country market lead. We’ve also proudly announced the promotion of four deserving directors to take effect from 2024, Anastasia Terescenco, Archana Yallajosula, Tanya Barter and Victoria McGlade.

    1. Extending values beyond work: Garran’s always supported our commitment beyond work by creating the first girls’ cricket team at Camberwell Magpies Cricket Club. It’s about including everyone, not just at the office. Protiviti proudly sponsors this initiative, aiming for a 50% balance of female players in the club. We believe in making a difference, both on and off the field.

    Chantelle, Protiviti’s HR manager, highlights that the success of policy changes is rooted in senior leaders’ passion. Our commitment to a positive work culture, fostering gender equity, inclusivity, and equal opportunity, is evident. Driving us through our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey is Ghislaine Entwisle alongside our women’s network lead Gabriella Soares, whose consistent engagement is crucial.

    “I often ensure that I’m regularly championing values that I live by, both within and outside the workplace, often drawing upon analogies from the world of cricket (my favourite sport!) to demonstrate how a diverse and collaborative team leads to triumph. Notably, I’ve applied this philosophy beyond the office by championing a new girls’ cricket team, while working to establish a women’s senior premier program – cricket. I recognise that empowering women is not confined to the workplace or boardrooms; it extends into the fabric of society itself.”, shares Garran.

    Protiviti team

    Tag: Managing director and former country market lead, Garran Duncan, along with Chantelle Salas (left), HR manager at Protiviti Australia, and technology lead and managing director, Ghislaine Entwisle (right) 

    One common challenge on your journey could be avoiding long-term goals as you chase short-term goals for your organisation. But, in those times, it’s good to remember that true empowerment is not a fleeting endeavor but an enduring commitment that requires resilience.

    Garran further shares that one of his proudest accomplishments has been the opportunity to promote women to key leadership positions within Protiviti. Current market lead Lauren Brown shares, “Empowering women in leadership isn’t just about equality; it’s about unlocking diverse perspectives and driving innovation. I’m proud to be a part of such an organisation where we’re working towards gender balance in senior roles, as this ensures a richer, more inclusive future for us all.”

    To conclude, we’d just say that as we continue fostering inclusivity, advocating for equity, and inspiring change, our commitment extends beyond corporate walls, leaving an indelible mark on Protiviti and echoing a call for societal progress.

    Find out more about Protiviti’s DEI initiatives here.

    Taking Gender Equality to the Next Level

    Taking Gender Equality to the Next Level

    Meet Anne O’Loughlin, Managing Principal of Coulter Legal and winner of the SME category of Recalibrate: Gender Equity Awards for the second year in a row.

    Anne shares with us some of what motivates her to be a driving force for change and she talks about the ground breaking initiatives they have implemented .

    Learn More