One step forward and two steps back? Hopefully not for gender reporting | Women's Agenda

One step forward and two steps back? Hopefully not for gender reporting

If we look to the media, 2015 has got off to a stumbling start when it comes to gender equality. Earlier this month, the federal government released a summary of a public consultation it undertook in 2014 on workplace gender reporting. Although the report itself does not explicitly signal any changes to the current reporting requirements under the Workplace Gender Equality (WGE) Act 2012, the purpose of the consultation was to identify opportunities to streamline reporting and to represent “value for effort”. Media responses to the report have been generally critical, with many pointing out that any watering down of reporting requirements will be a step backwards to achieving greater gender equity in the workplace.

Diversity Council Australia has undertaken extensive consultation with its members, many of whom are some of Australia’s largest employers, on gender reporting: during the 2009 Review of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, the introduction of the WGE Act in 2012, the subsequent design and implementation of the WGE Act reporting requirements as well as the recent consultation undertaken last year. DCA has also provided significant support for our members in preparation for and implementation of the latest WGE Act reporting requirements through its quarterly Gender Reporting Networks for members.

What we have learnt from all of this is that an overwhelming number of leading Australian employers strongly support the current legislation. They see it as a means to improve the productivity and competitiveness of their business through the advancement of gender equality, particularly in industries where there is a war for talent. They recognise the importance of promoting and improving gender equality including pay equity. It will provide an important new mechanism to advance the more widespread adoption of mainstreamed workplace flexibility. The list of possible gains for Australian businesses is long and can be supported by evidence.

DCA members have particularly welcomed the new mechanisms for easy on-line reporting. These will make it more straightforward for companies to report on their actions to promote gender equality and benchmark their performance against their competitors. In addition, the work that has gone into the reporting at an individual enterprise level will mean the next reporting cycle will proceed more smoothly and be less resource intensive.

While some of our members have experienced minor challenges with some aspects of reporting, they overwhelmingly support gender reporting as a mechanism to deliver tangible benefits for women, their businesses, and the general community.

International research also reinforces the importance of rigorous and ongoing data collection for gender reporting. A recent report from the World Bank highlights that among the most important corporate practices to increase women’s employment or their longevity in employment – and which shows a return on investment – is setting up employee data infrastructure that disaggregates human resource data by sex to monitor the outcomes associated with company employment policies.[1] The importance of the mechanisms and tools provided by WGE Agency to business to support reporting under the Act cannot be underestimated.

The most recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report[2] notes that Australia still faces the challenge of fully closing economic and participation gaps for women – in particular, the gaps in senior positions, wages and leadership levels. The report points to research showing that the reduction in the male-female employment gap has been an important driver of European economic growth in the last decade and closing this gap would have massive economic implications for developed countries like Australia.

DCA and its members regard the WGE Act reporting arrangements as an important mechanism to reduce women’s labour market disadvantage whilst simultaneously improving business productivity.

While we would support some streamlining of reporting, we would not support anything that would compromise the integrity of the data being collecting as it is such a vital tool for making tangible progress on gender equality in the workplace. Our members would not expect anything less of us.

While the findings from the consultation process are being considered, the Government has made a commitment that workplace gender equality reporting will remain in place. Any changes will be announced prior to the start of the 2015-16 reporting period which begins 1 April 2015.

Until then, we can only hope that the sentiment of the business community as voiced by the DCA membership base will be heard, and that government will continue to support rigorous workplace gender equality reporting.

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