Gender equality – new law

New law drives gender equality at work

The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, passed by federal parliament in November 2012, is a landmark development on the journey to gender equality in Australian workplaces. It:

  • focuses on gender equality including equal pay between women and menGENDER. istock-illustration-913378-paper-couple
  • promotes the elimination of discrimination on the basis of family and caring responsibilities
  • will provide ground-breaking data on the state of gender equality in Australian workplaces
  • will change the name of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The Act is a significant advance on its predecessor, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, shifting the focus from equal opportunity for women to gender equality, which is more contemporary and relevant. The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency will be renamed the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reflecting this change in focus.

Helen Conway, Director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency says “the changes will increase Australia’s productivity and improve business performance by empowering organisations to harness all of the nation’s talent.”  

Under the Act, non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees will report on actual gender equality outcomes, and provide the Workplace Gender Equality Agency with standardised data.

This data will put Australia at the international cutting edge for analysing progress on workplace gender equality. The Agency will use the data to set industry-specific benchmarks. Employers will be able to compare their performance with others in their industry and we’ll work with organisations to develop strategies to improve their performance,” Ms Conway says.  ”These benchmarks will also help organisations set voluntary targets on gender equality – something I strongly encourage. As with any business initiative, the best way to drive change is to set clear objectives and reward managers for achieving them.”

The legislation also focuses on eliminating discrimination on the grounds of gender in relation to family and caring responsibilities. “The Act recognises that the days when women did all the caring and men were the sole breadwinners are long gone. It’s time workplace practices caught up with the way we live today,” Ms Conway says.

2013 will be a transitional year giving employers time to prepare for the new reporting arrangements that will be fully operational from 2014. “There is a strong business case for gender equality but we recognise that many organisations struggle to achieve it. We are absolutely committed to working collaboratively with employers to help them bring gender equality to their workplaces,” Ms Conway says. “The Act will enable our Agency to measure how far Australian employers have come but, more importantly, determine where there is more work to be done and where the Workplace Gender Equality Agency can help.”

In their own words…

Following the introduction of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, here’s what some of Australia’s business leaders and lead organisations had to say about gender equality:

Telstra takes its commitment to gender equality very seriously. While we know there is still much more work to do, the new legislation for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency will provide an even stronger focus, create higher expectations around accountability, and ultimately support organisations like ours to achieve better outcomes in this important area.David Thodey, CEO, Telstra

As an employer-based professional association, AHRI welcomes this new legislation as a positive force in encouraging higher and more senior participation by women in the workforce – particularly within senior executive and board roles, where their representation remains unacceptably low in Australia by world standards. Whenever gender equity is enhanced – both economic performance and social equity improve – and that’s a worthwhile outcome for all Australians. It’s sad but true that Australian businesses still need a nudge when it comes to making progress on gender equity, and AHRI believes the Workplace Gender Equality Agency is capably structured and better positioned now to do just that. And I am sure they will.” Peter Wilson AM, President and Chairman, Australian Human Resources Institute

 I have a personal passion in encouraging women to step up to leadership roles … to lean in to the decision making tables. For me, this is about recognising women’s capability and providing opportunity for women to showcase this … equality based on merit, not tokenism based on gender.





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