Future Women, the lifestyle website and women’s employment services program co-owned by Nine Entertainment, remains confident about its success, even as it awaits independent assessment after it was launched in 2021.
The company, which has scored more than $17 million in state and federal government funding commitments over the past 12 months, has yet to receive feedback from an independent evaluator on the effectiveness of its programs, as it comes close to outpacing direct spending on a handful of women’s programs outlined in the government’s past two federal budgets.
Future Women, which per corporate filings once named former Nine CEO Hugh Marks among its directors, was founded by the network’s former lifestyle head, Helen McCabe, in 2018 as a “women’s lifestyle site”. The company’s share structure is split 50-50 between Nine and a holding company registered at McCabe’s address, according to corporate filings.
The company’s Jobs Academy describes itself as a program that launched “with a promise to help women connect, learn and lead”, with a mandate to pull “multiple levers to further gender equality in Australian workplaces”.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
Would-be participants convinced by the academy’s “about us” page are prompted to register their interest in the next available intake, and head over to the Future Women membership portal where they are directed to select from one of three tiered content subscription plans.
The lowest-tier “red” subscription gets jobseekers access to “live, online events” hosted by the academy’s member-only community “FW Live and Leadership: Your questions answered”, along with a grab-bag of other content including “exclusive access” to articles, videos, and resources on the Future Women website, as well as a Facebook group, at a cost of about $50 a year.
For about $250 a year, women looking to get back into the workforce are encouraged to “future proof” their careers with a “gold” level subscription, which gets them access to all of the “red” features plus 12 “FW Advance” interactive webinars hosted by experts.
The top-tier “platinum” tier subscription gets jobseekers a virtual ticket to the Future Women leadership summit, as well as access to group mentoring sessions, along with all that’s included in the lower tiers.
A jobs academy pilot program completed in December last year, funded by the Office for Women as part of the government’s women’s leadership and development program, delivered “tangible outcomes” for participants, the company told Crikey.
Outcomes of last year’s pilot program included getting 72% of program participants into either a new job or training, including study. Of those participants, 86% secured a new job, 29% went off to start training or study, and 4% started their own business, according to a company survey.
Just how effective the program has been in matching participants to suitable jobs and equipping them with material skills and training, however, remains to be seen.
The company has been engaged with an independent evaluator charged with assessing the efficiency of its programs since its launch, Crikey understands. McCabe declined to comment on feedback received from the evaluator.
After the government committed $8.7 million to Future Women’s jobs academy in its October budget, feminist academic Eva Cox said programs like it are “fairly dubious” in that they fail to address skills shortages among older women looking to get back into the workforce head-on.
“Women of that age have difficulty getting jobs because young people don’t want to employ them … and the skills they already have aren’t recognised. But taking women who may lack skills and shoving them online to talk to each other … I just think it’s slightly tacky,” she said.
Future Women is run by directors headed up by McCabe, along with Nine executives Kylie Blucher and Rebecca Haagsma, who have together managed to secure more than $20 million in government spending since the site was founded. More than half of that cash has padded the company’s coffers in the last 12 months alone.
The $8.7 million from the Albanese government was followed by commitments from the Queensland and New South Wales state governments worth $3.2 million and $5.2 million respectively.
The NSW spending formed part of an election commitment, the particulars of which aren’t likely to become known until Labor hands down its first state budget in September.
By comparison, the federal government committed just $5.8 million to women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in its October 2022 budget, and cut $3.9 million in funding from the Morrison government’s Supporting Women’s Mid-Career Transition into the Tech Workforce initiative.
In its May 2023 budget, the Albanese government committed just $5 million to getting more women into male-dominated trades, and outlined only $18.6 million in spending to prevent and address sexual violence.
“The program has received strong bipartisan support,” a spokesperson for Future Women told Crikey.
“On the back of strong results from the initial program, the former Morrison government announced an extension of the contract. It was subsequently supported by the Albanese government in the federal budget October 2022.”
Since the completion of its pilot program, the Future Women jobs academy opened up for a new intake in November, targeted women aged over 40, because “older women are the fastest growing group in Australia to experience homelessness”.
“On the back of the success of the initial program, more than 2000 applications were received. More than 600 women were onboarded in February and another 700 will be onboarded in 2024,” the spokesperson said.
All participants in the next round of the program will be aged 40 or older, the company said, with 27% of them from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and 3% of them First Nations women.
This article was first published by Crikey.