Government to enact landmark gender equality in workplace law

Companies will be required to submit data on gender equality outcomes

The Australian Government has introduced a new law to improve equal pay and opportunities for women in the workplace, passing the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012.

The law focuses on fostering gender equality at workplace, equal pay between women and men, and helping eliminate discrimination on the basis of family and caring responsibilities.

It significantly advances its predecessor legislation, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, and shifts focus from equal opportunity for women to gender equality, which is more contemporary and relevant.

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.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency will oversee the new law. The government has almost doubled the agency’s funding to enhance its role in supporting and advising industry, according to a statement.

The law will require first new reports in 2014, starting with the April 2013 to March 2014 period to enable employers ample time to adapt to the new focus on data and workforce. This year employers will be required to file under the old system and in 2013 they will only be required to report on their workforce profile.

Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency director, Helen Conway, said, "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."

"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."

She said, "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."

Industry reaction to the new legislation thus far is positive:

Telstra CEO, David Thodey, said in a statement, "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."

Australian Stock Exchange, managing Director and CEO, Elmer Funke Kupper, said, "ASX supports initiatives that promote greater equality and diversity in Australian business. As a company, ASX is committed to further improve diversity in its own leadership team. And as one of the world's leading exchange groups, ASX will continue to play an active role in promoting diversity in the wider business community."

More to come.

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