Caring and Workplace Gender Equality in the Public Sector in Victoria

This project researched how pregnancy, parenting and caring affect gender equality.

The research team

University of Melbourne:

  • Associate Professor Alysia Blackham
  • Professor Leah Ruppanner
  • Professor Beth Gaze
  • Professor Susan Ainsworth
  • Dr. Brendan Churchill
  • Kate Dangar, Research Project Manager
  • Mira Gunawansa, Research Project Manager
  • Lía Acosta Rueda, Research Assistant
  • Cameron Patrick, Statistical Consultant

What was the research about?

The team researched pregnancy, parenting, caregiving and gender equality in the public sector. It looked at:

  • Gender differences in accessing leave and flexible work options
  • How the Gender Equality Act 2020 can address caregiving-related challenges.

How was the research conducted?

The researchers used mixed methods, including:

  • desktop data collection
  • surveys
  • analysing data from the 2021 People matter survey
  • interviews.

It used 349 survey responses and 74 interviews. Participants came from 23 public sector workplaces.

What did the research find?

  • Victoria's public sector is good at offering flexible work.
  • More women than men take care of loved ones and need to use flexible work and leave for caring.
  • Most people didn't know about their rights as carers in the workplace.
  • Access to leave and flexible working arrangements for carers depends on individual managers. Many felt these benefits were difficult to access.
  • COVID-19 made it easier for carers to work flexibly. Carers felt anxious about the return to inflexible arrangements. 
  • Caregivers, especially working mothers and women aged 50+ faced barriers to career advancement.
  • Caregivers faced discrimination in the workplace, especially those from diverse backgrounds.
  • Insecure work made discrimination worse. Some carers didn't take leave because they worried about their jobs. 
  • People taking leave due to trauma, like miscarriage or domestic violence, had less support.


Recommendations for public sector organisations

  • Revise the Victorian Public Service Enterprise Agreement 2020. Develop an inclusive definition of caregiving.
  • Learn how caregivers use different types of leave for caregiving responsibilities. This includes personal leave, unpaid leave and annual leave.
  • Conduct an annual audit on leave allowances.
  • Increase personal leave allowances.
  • Make flexible working the standard for everyone.
  • Track the use of caregiving entitlements (including requests and actual use).
  • Include managing flexible work in performance reviews for managers. 
  • Make sure staff know their rights as caregivers and different leave options. 
  • Train all managers on caring, workplace flexibility and leave entitlements.

Recommendations for managers and HR departments

  • Lead by example. Role model the use of leave or flexible work for caring needs. 
  • Discuss flexible work arrangements in regular check-ins with staff.
  • Make it easier for staff to find information on leave options.
  • Support caregivers to apply for promotions.
  • Create staff networks for people with caring responsibilities to connect. 
  • Support people returning to work after long periods of leave for caregiving.

Recommendations for the Commission

  • Track insecure work in the Victorian public sector. Look at how this affects caregivers. 
  • Encourage organisations to collect data on the caring responsibilities of their staff.

Read the full report

Caring and Workplace Gender Equality in Victoria's Public Sector
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Citing this research

Dangar K, Gunawansa M, Blackham A, Ruppanner L, Gaze B, Ainsworth S, Churchill B, Acosta Rueda L and Patrick C, ‘Caring and workplace gender equality in the Public Sector in Victoria: Final Project Report’, University of Melbourne, 2023.