The government has published a review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, which sought community feedback from employers and the wider community on what regulatory requirements were needed to tackle workplace inequality.
Minister for women Marise Payne announced the WGEA Review was publicly available at an International Women’s Day event in Sydney on Friday morning.
“This review comes at a critical time – there is real momentum for change towards achieving gender equality,” Payne said in a statement.
“It’s clear that we need to proactively address issues in Australian workplaces to enable women to excel and reach their full potential.”
The WGEA Review endorsed the implementation of sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report, which was published in 2020. Recommendations number 46 and 42 of that report (develop good practice indicators to measure and monitor sexual harassment issues, and consider how the indicators apply to WGEA reporting) would effectively work to prevent and address sex-based harassment and discrimination in the workplace, the review found.
According to the government, its recommendations aim to help employers actively address problems ‘and substantially reduce the reporting burden, freeing up employers to take action on accelerating progress on gender equality in their workplaces’.
“The recommendations aim to progress gender equality outcomes in the workforce and streamline the reporting process for business, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw women disproportionately impacted,” the minister said.
Jenkins welcomed the review’s focus on accelerating progress on gender equality, noting that it reflected the appetite for change in the community. By backing data-driven methods to achieve gender equality in workplaces, she said important indicators would be used to collect more data, including transparency of organisational gender pay gaps, collecting age and location data, and exploring opportunities to safely collect broader diversity data.
“I welcome the government’s intention to implement all 10 recommendations (subject to some further consultation recommended by the Review),” Jenkins said.
“Accelerating gender equality in the workplace is good for women, good for business and good for the economy.”
The report also clarified that ‘sex-based harassment and discrimination’ was an indicator of gender inequality, Jenkins said.
“It also modernises the concepts of minimum standards to meet contemporary expectations for gender-equality standards. These are important improvements.”
“Workplaces are critical to women’s economic security, leadership opportunities and safety. WGEA has successfully used data accompanied by their helpful guidance to support organisations to advance gender equality. The review endorses this approach.”
I welcome the Government’s announcement that it will review the Workplace Gender Equality Act. It reflects the significant appetite for change that we have all witnessed from the community and from workplaces, especially over the past 2 years. @WGEAgency https://t.co/ziIFYQWn97
— Kate Jenkins (@Kate_Jenkins_) March 4, 2022
Workplace Gender Equality Agency director Mary Wooldridge said the recommendations would enhance insights from her agency’s already world-leading dataset and deepen the capacity to work closely with employers to support and accelerate their efforts.
“Implementing these recommendations will mean Australia will have one of the strongest approaches in the world to ensure all women and men are equally represented, valued and rewarded wherever they work,” she said.
The release of the report was an example of the federal government delivering on a promise of its 2021-22 women’s budget statement, Payne added. Stakeholders across business, employer and employee groups, women’s organisations and academics were consulted in developing the review which considered feedback from eight virtual roundtables and 155 submissions.
Sam Mostyn from Chief Executive Women (CEW) remarked her organisation looked forward to the government investment in reporting systems. Publishing the gender pay gaps of organisations with a view to setting targets and reporting against them were essential to bring about change, she added.
“These recommendations would put Australia at the forefront of global efforts to drive gender equality,” Mostyn said.
Payne also thanked the review’s expert advisors Salesforce Australia and New Zealand CEO Pip Marlow and Proximity principal adviser Kerri Hartland.