This report represents a key part of the culmination of the first round of obligations under the Gender Equality Act 2020. This means almost 300 organisations have implemented the systems and processes to fulfil their workplace gender audit obligations for the first time. As in any new process, there is much learning to be incorporated into future reporting rounds to create greater clarity, efficiency, and impact.
As discussed in the Introduction, there is work to be done to better understand – and build capacity to record, analyse and address – how other forms of disadvantage and discrimination intersect with gender inequality. The Commission is committed to building this evidence base and capability. As part of its broader suite of work on intersectionality, the Commission will produce a companion to this report to be released in the first trimester of 2023. This report will be focused exclusively on intersectionality and present intersectional insights from the audit data along with insights and recommendations from the intersectional research commissioned in 2022.
Undertaking this work will help to address complex inequalities within organisations and the broader Victorian community. It will also position Victoria as a leader in intersectional data collection and analysis, inspiring other jurisdictions to follow.
Informing future workplace gender audits
The Act’s inaugural workplace gender audit was the first time many organisations covered by the Act had been asked to collect and report on data of this nature. The Commission acknowledges that data collection of this scale has been a challenge for some.
The Commission is committed to learning from this first workplace gender audit process. To this end, the Commission sought an external evaluation of the entire workplace gender audit process. A member of our Panel of Expert Providers will advise on the efficiency and effectiveness of the workplace gender audit process, identify any changes that need to be made for the 2023 progress report data collection framework, and help us gauge the level of guidance and support needed to build defined entities’ data collection capabilities. The Commission encourages all defined entities to participate in this evaluation to ensure future workplace gender audits are of high quality, particularly regarding the collection and analysis of intersectional data.
The evaluation outcomes will be delivered in late 2022 and the Commission will use these to evolve future audit specifications, guidance, and other support.
Gender Equality Action Plans and capability development
Undertaking a data-driven audit and analysis of the state and nature of gender equality in their organisations was intended to assist defined entities to develop a meaningful and robust understanding of where improvements need to be made. Developing a Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) based on the audit outcomes should, in turn, ensure that defined entities have generated strategies and measures that can address the specific forms of gender inequality that exist in their organisations.
Collecting and publicly reporting audit data at regular intervals then allows organisations, their stakeholders and the Commission to understand whether those strategies are effective.
This cycle of identifying problems through data collection, developing actions to address those problems, and using data collection and analysis again to monitor progress and modify actions as needed, will support defined entities to meet the Act’s obligation to make reasonable and material progress in relation to their gender equality indicators every 2 years.
GEAPs are designed around 6 central pillars:
- Data collection and analysis
- Meaningful consultation with governing body, employees and employee representatives – including relevant trade unions
- A commitment to underlying principles of gender equality and intersectionality
- Development of strategies and measures for improving gender equality
- A commitment to leadership and resourcing of the plan
- Monitoring progress against strategies and measures over time.
The first round of GEAPs were submitted to the Commission between 31 March and 20 June 2022.
The Commission completed a multi-stage review of each entity’s submission – including both the GEAP, as well as any supporting documents – to assess for compliance with the Act.224 A GEAP was considered compliant if it addressed each of the requirements set out in the Act to a minimum standard.
To support the strengthening of GEAPs, where a requirement was found to be non-compliant, the organisation was provided with a detailed description of the requirement and guidance to address the omission and resubmit a revised GEAP. Entities were also given the opportunity to contest a finding of non-compliance.
While most defined entities have already received a report based on the compliance review of their GEAP, the Commission is also committed to building capability within defined entities to develop and implement higher quality GEAPs over time.
To this end, the Commission is undertaking further in-depth qualitative analysis of GEAPs throughout the remainder of 2022. This will involve an analysis of GEAPs that demonstrate leading practice in planning to address gender inequality, as well as GEAPs that may demonstrate common pitfalls, or that have met compliance minimums, but may not be highly effective in progressing gender equality.
The outcomes of this qualitative review of GEAPs will inform a report showcasing high quality examples and recommendations for defined entities to strengthen their current GEAP implementation and future GEAP development. The outcomes will also inform improvements to the Commission’s guidance materials and training offerings.
It is anticipated that the Gender Equality Action Plan Review report will be published toward the end of 2022.
Resourcing workplace gender audits and Gender Equality Action Plan implementation
Recent research undertaken for the Commission has explored the capacity of defined entities to meet their future obligations.226 The research found high levels of support among defined entities for the Act’s objectives as a powerful mechanism for improving gender equality. Many also expressed support for the Commission and Commissioner as critical enablers for success in promoting gender equality and cultural change in Victoria.
However, the research also found a common experience among research participants was that there had been little consideration of the long-term resourcing required to meet their organisation’s obligations under the Act. For some entities, resources allocated to the audit process and development of their GEAPs were short-term, with no commitment from leadership teams to securing ongoing staff to support implementation. There was concern expressed by some staff that their organisations had underestimated the amount of work required to implement their obligations under the Act, and that there was an expectation that ongoing resourcing would not be required after the initial stage of implementation.227
Pressures from under-resourcing were compounded by disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the health and local government sectors, where staff and resources were diverted to other areas. The COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted implementation of the Act by limiting the opportunity for best-practice consultation in some organisations.228
The research also found that the workforce tasked with implementing the Act within defined entities is highly feminised. The bulk of the work was often delegated to women working in temporary, insecure and often junior positions, and under challenging conditions sometimes without sufficient support from their organisations.229 The highly feminised nature of the Act’s implementation workforce in defined entities also meant that many of these staff were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic creating additional challenges through increased care-giving, home-learning and other unpaid responsibilities.230
While the Commission recognises that some defined entities are operating with limited funding and that for many, these new obligations occurred during a time of significant uncertainty and disruption, it is a requirement under the Act that all defined entities ensure that adequate levels of resourcing are applied to the task of implementing the Act in their workplaces.
Given the volume of ongoing work involved in leading organisation-wide change such as will be required by many organisations under the Act, this important work cannot adequately be delegated to staff in temporary, insecure, and junior positions. In addition to ensuring sufficient staffing resources, most defined entities will need to allocate a separate program budget to implement GEAPs in order to meet the obligation to make reasonable and material process on all the Act’s gender equality indicators in every 2-year period.
Driving gender equality for all Victorians and inspiring change
The Act represents an ambitious step up in equality law in Australia. It imposes a positive duty to consider and promote gender equality on defined entities and is the first piece of Australian legislation to officially acknowledge intersectionality. Importantly, the Act mandates a level of organisational transparency about progress on gender equality that has not previously been required in by organisations in Victoria, or the rest of Australia.
A focus on transparent data reporting is designed to drive progress on gender equality both in organisations covered by the Act and beyond. It does this by facilitating knowledge-sharing and innovation across organisations and creating competitive pressure between them to make material progress. A transparent approach also builds trust between government, organisations and the public by allowing equal access to data and information regarding the state and nature of gender equality in public sector organisations, local councils and universities.
This Baseline report represents an important part of this commitment to transparency. What it has demonstrated is that while organisations covered by the Act are further along the road to gender equality in some areas than the private sector nationally, there is still a long way to go for gender equality to be fully realised. Publicly reporting on the Commission’s workplace gender audit data contributes to an ongoing dialogue around how defined entities are tracking on their journeys toward gender equality, how they can make progress towards this goal and how to measure that progress.
In presenting this data, the Commission also seeks to inspire other jurisdictions on the road towards promoting gender equality in their organisations and communities.
- The compliance check review process included:
- an initial compliance check review of all submissions;
- a quality assurance spot check of compliant GEAPs across sectors;
- a second review of all non-compliant GEAPs;
- a Commissioner (or expert delegate) third and final review where there were multiple compliance failures found in a GEAP.
- Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic), s 10(3).
- Action for Gender Equality Partnership (AGEP), Report for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector: Defined entity educational strategy for gender impact assessments, AGEP, 2022, accessed 2 August 2022, p. 28; L Ryan, A Blackham, S Ainsworth, L Ruppanner, B Gaze & E Yang, Laying the Foundation for Gender Equality in the Public Sector in Victoria: Final Project Report, University of Melbourne, 2022, doi: 10.26188/19254539, pp 14-15.
- Ryan et al., Laying the Foundation, pp 14-15.
- AGEP, Report for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector, p 3; Ryan et al., Laying the Foundation, p 15-16.
- AGEP, Report for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector, p 39; Ryan et al., Laying the Foundation, pp 16-17.
- Ryan et al., Laying the Foundation, pp 16-17.