The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (Agency) continues its efforts to promote gender equality in employment and the workplace. While we can take encouragement by the work in which the Agency is engaged, it is clear there is still much work to be done in this area and real change will require conscious organisational and cultural change.
The Agency (formerly known as the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency), is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces. It is responsible for administering the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Act). The objectives of the Act include:-
- promoting and improving gender equality (including equal remuneration between women and men) in employment and in the workplace
- fostering workplace consultation between employers and employees on issues concerning gender equality in employment and in the workplace
- improving the productivity and competitiveness of Australian business through the advancement of gender equality in employment and in the workplace.
The Act requires non-public sector employers with 100 or more staff to submit an annual report to the Agency on a number of prescribed Gender Equality Indicators including gender composition of the workforce and equal remuneration between women and men.
Australia’s report card on gender equality in the workplace
The most recent data suggests that employers are not maximising the potential for Australia’s highly educated female talent pool and are not taking a strategic approach to promoting gender equality in the workplace. In this regard:
- women are still struggling to progress past lower levels of management and occupy only a quarter of the positions in the top three levels of management
- the gender pay gap (the difference between the average of all male and female earnings expressed as a percentage of male earnings) has increased to a record high of 18.8% (meaning no real progress has been made in the last twenty years). The gender pay gap increases by approximately another 5% when additional benefits such as bonuses and other discretionary pay are taken into account.
- employers are failing to take a strategic approach to gender equality. Only 13.6% have a strategy for flexible working; 13.2% have a strategy to support employees with family or caring responsibilities, and a mere 7.1% have a standalone, overall gender equality strategy. At board level, less than 1 in 10 organisations have set a target to lift the number of female directors, despite women occupying less than a quarter of directorships.
Employers of Choice
On a more positive note, 76 employers currently have Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citations handed out by the Agency annually (of which Norton Rose Fulbright is one), which is to publically recognise employers’ efforts in the area of equal opportunity for women in the workplace. Encouragingly, those employers include a diverse mix of organisations and industries.
Applicants have to complete an online assessment which scores them against a number of criteria. As well as having to be compliant with the Act, an organisation needs to demonstrate that it has policies, strategies and processes in place which address issues such as gender pay inequality, flexible working, leadership and development and employee consultation.
Employers who have the citation have recognised, in particular, the need for employers to promote greater acceptance of men taking parental leave and working flexibly. The Director of the Agency, Helen Conway is quoted as saying, “Achieving gender equality depends on men taking a more active caring role and this necessarily requires more active support from employers to change norms so that flexibility and caring is not a career killer for women and men“.
With that in mind an initiative called The Equilibrium Man Challenge has been established. It is a collaborative project that involves both government and private sector organisations. It aims to provide a communication forum for people interested in flexible work practices and workplace gender equality as well as the technology, tools and tactics that enable people to achieve greater equilibrium in their lives. The first major initiative is an online series of micro-documentaries that follow a group of men who are trying to change the way they work. For more information visit: www.equilibriumchallenge.com.au