The new Workplace Gender Equality Act – A snapshot

In November 2012, The Australian Federal Government followed through on their promise to modernise and improve on the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act.  The new amended act has been developed to drive improved gender equality outcomes and provide business with a new framework for gender equality. 

So…  what’s new?

  1. New name and new focus.  This new legislation has changed from Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act to The Workplace Gender Equality Act. 
  2. New Objectives.  As suggested by the name change, the objectives of the act is taking the emphasis off women and making it about gender equality. 
  3. Change in reporting.  Online reporting, access to data from previous years and the ability to compare with others and industries will all be developed.
  4. New power to the agency.  The funding for WGEA has doubled and their role has been expanded to include business support, resources and assistance to organisations.
  5. CEO sign off.  Top-level support for organisational change towards gender equality is crucial, and CEOs will now be required to sign off on the WGEA reporting. 
  6. Benchmarks.  These won’t be part of the compliance framework, but will be used to show how organisations are performing as compared to others in their industry.
  7. Minimum standards.  Previously, there were no minimum standards in place.  These will now be set by industry and evidence based, to ensure that poor performing organisations can be identified. 

Reporting to the WGEA

From 2014, non-public sector businesses with 100 or more employees will be required to report annually on six Gender Equality Indicators (GEIs).

GEI One: Gender composition of the workforce.

Organisations will need to report on their workplace profile by gender, employment status (part time, full time, casual, contract), as well as the occupational categories for managers and non-managers.  This includes data, plus the existence of any strategies or policies that support gender equality.

Starting in 2014, this reporting will be boosted to include following areas by gender and manager/non-manager:

  • Composition of recruitment application
  • Composition of applicants interviewed
  • Composition of applicants appointed
  • The number and proportion of promotions
  • The number and proportion of resignations

GEI Two: Gender composition of governing bodies of relevant employers.

If there is a governing body, the gender profile must be reported on.  Organisations will also be required to report whether they have gender targets for this body.  It must also be stated whether selection of members is based on a formal, merit based strategy. 

GEI Three: Equal remuneration between women and men.

Data on all forms of remuneration by gender will need to be reported.  Organisations will also need to report on what they are doing to address gender pay gaps – their remuneration policy and pay equity objectives included in this policy, whether or not they have analysed their gender pay gap and what steps they may have taken as a result.

GEI Four: Availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities.

This is the gender equality indicator that addresses parental leave and flexible work.  It is divided into two parts:

  1. Employer Funded Paid Parental Leave.   How organisations pay it and how much they pay.  The 2014/2015 reporting will also introduce return to work from parental leave as well as the number of requests and approvals for extended parental leave requirements.
     
  2. Employment Terms, Conditions and Practices such as:
  • The availability of flexible working arrangements by gender and manager / non-manager
  • Details of the policies or strategies in place for flexible work, to support carers or those who are impacted by domestic violence.
  • Non-leave based measures such as subsidised child care, breastfeeding facilities and referral services for care.

GEI Five: Consultation with employees on issues concerning gender equality in the workplace.

Organisations must report on whether or not they consult with employees on matters specifically relating to gender equality.  Reporting includes the method of consultation, as well as who was consulted.  

GEI Six:  Other matters specified by the minister.

Employers are to report on whether it has a sex based harassment and discrimination prevention strategy or policy in place.  This also includes the grievance process.  Organisations also have to report whether or not managers are given training on this topic and how often it is offered.

What happens if organisations do not comply? 

Organisations who do not comply with the legislation may be publicly named, as well as be excluded from any deals with government, such as grants.

As you can see from the summary, organisations are required to report on the existence of many policies and strategies, but they  will not necessarily be penalised if they do not have them.  This is one of the criticisms of the Act – does it really force organisations to change their ways?  

Written into the Act is Access Requirements.  Once a WGEA annual report is finalised, organisations must:

  1. Inform its employees and members or shareholders that the report has been lodged.
  2. Provide access to the report to employees and members or shareholders.
  3. Give employees the opportunity to comment on the report.

This new Act will allow us all to distinguish between the organisations who are taking this challenge seriously and those who fulfil the minimum requirements.  A business that intends to be an attractive place for talented employees, one who meets their customers standards in corporate social responsibility and one that maintains the value of their brand should take these compliance standards very seriously.  

These gender equality indicators will be measured, benchmarked and are the foundation of the minimum standards.  One of the big key differences of this legislation is the inclusion of business practices that lead to these outcomes.  These are the lead indicators that contribute to the gender equality outcomes.  This provides organisations with standards of practice that are based on evidence to drive greater gender equality. 

However, these indicators are by no means an exhaustive list.  There are many things that are not included in the Act that are known to improve gender equality outcomes.  Indicators such as informal flexible work arrangements and embedding accountable gender targets at all levels are not there. It is the businesses that go to beyond the minimum compliance outlined by the Act and work towards best practice that will have the best gender equality outcomes and the resulting business benefits.

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