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Human Resources

Slowing pace of change in gender equality prompts renewed approach in workplace accountability

Health Industry Hub | March 20, 2023 |

Human Resources: Minister for Women, Senator the Hon. Katy Gallagher, tabled the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA) biennial Progress Report in Parliament on Friday at the inaugural meeting of the Women and Women’s Safety Ministerial Council.

Since 2013-14 when the WGEA report was first introduced, the gender pay gap in Australia has fallen from 28.6% to 22.8% and nearly 4 in 5 employers (77.7%) now have an overall policy or strategy in place to support gender equality, up 11.5 percentage points from 2013-14.

However, the report revealed that over the last two years progress has stalled and, for the first time, there was no reduction in the gender pay gap, with it remaining at 22.8%.

Women also continue to be underrepresented in senior leadership roles. Since 2019-20, the proportion of women as CEOs or heads of business has increased by only 4 percentage points from 18.3% to 22.3%, clearly not reflecting the percentage of women in our society. The proportion of women board members and Chairs have only increased by about 3 percentage points (see graph) and the figures are much worse when considering women in leadership from culturally diverse backgrounds (women with non-Anglo Celtic origins).

WGEA Progress Report 2020 – 2022

Senator Gallagher said “The reality is, while we are making some gains on gender equality, we are not there yet and, in some aspects of women’s lives, progress has stalled. Shining a light on these statistics may be confronting but it is crucial if we are to have an honest conversation about gender equality in this country.”

WGEA Director Mary Wooldridge said “We are at a turning point in our work – and in the state of workplace gender equality in Australia. The past two years have been a time of reflection on what has worked, and strategic thinking about what needs to change to accelerate the rate of improvement.”

At the Council meeting, Senator Gallagher provided an update on the development of the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality. The Strategy will complement existing national strategies, such as the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2023-2032, and work by states and territories on strategies within their own jurisdictions.

Minister Gallagher spoke on the next phase of the public consultation to inform the development of the Strategy, which includes the consultation survey open until 19 April 2023.

WGEA’s last report recommended a detailed review of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 and its associated Legislative Instruments. The 2021 Review found change was not happening fast enough and made 10 recommendations, a number of which will be implemented by the Workplace Gender Equality Amendment (Closing the Gender Pay Gap) Bill 2023, currently before the Parliament.

They include changes that will enable WGEA to publish employer gender pay gaps, by mean, median and employer remuneration quartiles, as well as collecting more detailed information relating to sexual harassment and discrimination, employee data on age and location, and CEO remuneration.

The reforms also set new standards for larger companies to have policies or strategies on all the gender equality indicators and requires employers to present the WGEA summary and benchmarking reports to their Boards.

Another recent reform is the expansion of the WGEA’s reach with the requirement that Commonwealth public sector employers with 100 or more employees report their workforce data to WGEA in 2023.

Ms Wooldridge said these reforms will help cement Australia’s leadership on workplace gender equality.

“Employers play a critical role in achieving gender equality. International experience [from the UK] shows that publishing employer gender pay gaps leads companies to prioritise gender equality and to a lowering of pay gaps. Improved transparency and accountability will also better equip employees, and potential employees, with the information they need to make informed decisions about their own employment and improves their bargaining position.

“We are excited to work with employers to help them address their gender pay gaps and the factors contributing to them and to strengthen transparency and accountability,” Ms Wooldridge commented.

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