The Gender Equality Act 2020
History of the Act
In 2016, Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence found that Victoria must address gender inequality in order to reduce family violence and all forms of violence against women. In response, Victoria’s first gender equality strategy, Safe and Strong, was released in December 2016, which committed to legislative change to promote gender equality.
In 2018, an exposure draft of the Gender Equality Bill was released for extensive community engagement and public consultation, including a Citizen’s Jury of Victorians. The feedback from consultation was overwhelmingly positive, with stakeholders recognising the Bill as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to influence gender equality policy, culture and attitudes across Victoria.
The Gender Equality Act 2020 (Act) passed the Victorian Parliament in February 2020 and came into force on 31 March 2021. The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector (Commission) was established to support the implementation of the Act.
Dr Niki Vincent commenced her appointment as Victoria’s inaugural Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner (Commissioner) in October 2020. Dr Vincent is supported in her role by the Commission. As Commissioner, Dr Vincent is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Act and plays a key leadership role in promoting gender equality in Victorian workplaces and communities.
Scope of the Act
The Act is the first of its kind in Australia and is recognised globally as leading gender equality legislation. The Act applies to over 300 Victorian public sector organisations (known as defined entities) that have 50 or more employees, including universities and local councils (a total of approximately 450,000 workers or 12% of Victoria’s workforce). A list of defined entities and their industry groupings is provided at Annexure 1 of this report.
The Act requires defined entities to:
- develop, publish and implement a Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) every 4 years based on the results of a workplace gender audit
- make reasonable and material progress in relation to the Act’s workplace gender equality indicators, and publicly report on this progress every 2 years
- undertake gender impact assessments on all new policies, programs and services that impact the public and publicly report this activity every 2 years
- take into account that gender inequality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination, and have regard to this when developing strategies for improvement
The Act is unique and innovative in equality legislation. World-leading features include a positive duty on defined entities to consider and promote gender equality, the integration of consultation as a core feature of its procedural requirements, and a range of increasingly rigorous compliance and enforcement powers for the Commissioner.
The Act is the first formal integration of the concept of compounded discrimination (intersectionality) into Australian equality law. This means that defined entities must consider the disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience on the basis of Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion and/or sexual orientation in addition to gender inequality across the majority of their obligations. This includes as part of their duty to conduct workplace gender audits, promote gender equality, develop their GEAPs, and undertake gender impact assessments.
The Act also includes powers for the Commissioner to conduct dispute resolution for systemic gender equality issues that adversely affect a group or class of employees within a defined entity, where an enterprise agreement or workplace determination has a relevant gender equality clause allowing for the Commissioner’s involvement.
Over time, the Act will:
- increase women's economic security – by addressing the gender pay gap and gendered segregation in the workforce, ensuring gender equitable recruitment and promotion practices to strengthen retention, and addressing structural inequalities preventing women from accessing leadership positions.
- increase workforce participation rates – by reducing discrimination experienced by carers and parents, increasing men’s access to and uptake of flexible work arrangements and non-traditional caring roles, and increasing flexible work arrangements for all.
- improve health and wellbeing outcomes – by reducing rates of sexual harassment in the workplace, increasing/providing access to and uptake of flexible working arrangements, appropriate return to work arrangements and family violence leave, reduced impact of poverty and stress through increased economic security.
In 2025, a review will be conducted of the first 4 years of the Act’s operation to understand if it is on track to achieving these long-term goals. This review is a requirement under the Act and will be tabled in the Victorian Parliament by the Minister for Women.
The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector
The Commission supports the Commissioner to oversee implementation of the Act. It provides support to defined entities by helping to build their capacity to understand and meet their obligations under the Act and make meaningful progress towards gender equality in their organisations. The Commission is responsible for functions under the Act including data reporting and tracking of progress, research and evaluation, education and training, and dispute resolution.
The Commission sits within the Fairer Victoria division of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and comprised 16 FTE (including the Commissioner) on 30 June 2022.
First year of the Act’s implementation
The Commission was allocated $13.4 million over four years as part of the 2020/2021 Victorian State Budget to support implementation of the Act. Initial funding supported the provision of assistance to defined entities to meet their obligations and development of a reporting platform and public data interface.
Educating and supporting defined entities about the Act
The early stages of the Act’s implementation were largely focused on educating and supporting defined entities to understand the Act and meet their new obligations. This included:
- developing a range of comprehensive guidance materials, including for undertaking workplace gender audits and analysing audit data, developing GEAPs, conducting gender impact assessments, and dispute resolution
- sector-specific advice and leading practice resources, published on the Commission’s website
- conducting a series of educational roadshows for defined entities, heads of organisations, peak bodies and relevant unions, led by the Commissioner
- establishing an expert Panel of Providers to provide specialist and technical advice to the Commission and defined entities
- delivering tailored sector-wide workshops and training sessions for workplace gender audits, GEAPs and gender impact assessments.
In the 2021 calendar year, Dr Vincent undertook 254 stakeholder engagements, including speeches, panel events and meetings, and engaged in 25 media interviews and op ed articles.
In 2021, the Commission developed the Act’s reporting platform, which defined entities use to submit and view their obligations including workplace gender audits, GEAPs and progress reports.
Through the reporting platform and data interface, the Commission has collected 67 million data points (up to 230,000 data points per organisation) – the most comprehensive gender-disaggregated dataset on public sector organisations in Australia. This data will help us understand how defined entities are individually tracking against the set of gender equality indicators contained in the Act as well as the broader state and nature of gender inequalities across the sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges for most organisations covered by the Act. With these exceptional circumstances and uncertainty about ongoing impacts, the Commissioner granted 2-stage extensions for organisations to submit their workplace gender audit data in late 2021 and their GEAPs in early 2022. At the time of writing, 100% of workplace gender audits and 99% of GEAPs had been submitted and most had been assessed as compliant under the Act.
Regulation and Act amendment
The Commission has also developed 2 stages of regulations to streamline processes to reduce the overall burden on defined entities, expand the dispute resolution function to enable universities and local councils to refer systemic gender equality issues to the Commissioner, and incorporate a set of gender pay equity principles, which defined entities must have regard to when developing their GEAP.
A third stage of regulations is currently in development. These regulations propose that defined entities undertake progress audits every 2 years as part of their progress reports, to allow the Commissioner to set the format in which audits must be submitted, to prescribe library corporations as defined entities under the Act, and to enable library corporations to access the dispute resolution function. The Commission will undertake a comprehensive regulatory impact statement and consultation process over 2022. It is intended that the regulations will come into effect in early 2023, ensuring sufficient time for defined entities to prepare for undertaking progress audits, which will be due for submission in October 2023.
Amendments to the Act were made in June 2022 through the Justice Legislation Amendment Act 2022 to improve information-sharing provisions relating to the Commissioner’s dispute resolution function. These changes improve accountability and transparency in relation to systemic gender equality issues and assist the Commissioner to educate public sector organisations and the wider community about gender inequalities.
A focus on intersectionality
To understand and address workplace gender inequality effectively, we need to understand and address how gender intersects with other forms of disadvantage and discrimination. We know that people who experience multiple, interacting forms of discrimination face higher levels of workplace inequality than those who only experience one form of discrimination, or none at all.4 We also know that there are major gaps in intersectional data collection.5
The Act contributes to addressing this data deficit by requiring defined entities to collect, analyse and submit gender-disaggregated and intersectional workforce data to the Commission.
In the first workplace gender audit cycle, the Commission requested a broad range of intersectional data. This request was ambitious, but the Commission knew that aiming high would encourage organisations to submit the most complete and highest quality data they could. It would also help organisations to plan for future reporting.
For many defined entities, it was the first time they had been asked to collect and report on data of this nature, and often their systems were not configured to provide what the Commission asked for. As a result, there are significant data gaps and other issues with the way this data has been provided, making it more complicated to collate and to analyse accurately and meaningfully.
To do this in a comprehensive way will involve a suite of research (see below) and analysis work that the Commission will undertake throughout the remainder of 2022 and into early 2023. The Commission will publish the results in a companion report to this Baseline report, focusing on intersectionality in the first half of 2023.
Research into how to achieve gender equality in workplaces and the community is vital to driving strong progress in Victoria and beyond. Undertaking research related to the Act and its objectives is an important function of the Commissioner. Targeted research will maximise and expand the impact of the Act, and build the evidence base about what works in promoting gender equality for everyone. To support this important work, the Commission undertakes several activities including developing targeted research funding, engaging in knowledge-sharing and running a student research internship program.
In 2021, the Commission funded its inaugural research grants round. The funded research projects spanned from investigating the social and political circumstances that led to the establishment of the Act, international best practice in organisational gender equality, and how organisations can effectively remove barriers to equality for culturally and linguistically diverse women in the public sector.
The second annual research grants round, announced in August 2022, will have a strong focus on intersectionality, building the evidence base on how gender intersects with other experiences of disadvantage in Victoria’s public sector workplaces. Key areas of focus include the experiences of Aboriginal women, women with disability and women from non-English speaking backgrounds, gendered experiences in rural locations, and how pregnancy, parenting and/or caring can impact organisational gender equality. These projects will involve consultation with people with lived experience from different communities to ensure their experiences are represented accurately and respectfully.
As part of their final report, research teams will provide recommendations for defined entities to increase their capacity to sensitively collect and analyse more comprehensive intersectional data over time, as well as how to better address intersecting forms of inequality. The findings will also form part of the Commission’s companion report to this Baseline report, focusing on intersectionality, to be published in the first half of 2023.
This Baseline report
In a national first, this Baseline report provides an overview of the current state and nature of gender inequality across the span of organisations reporting under the Act. It will assist the Commission, defined entities, and the Victorian community to understand where the challenges and gaps are to progressing gender equality, and where efforts on improvement should be focused. It will provide a starting point from which to track change against each indicator, determine if reasonable and material progress is being made, and identify areas where the development of targets and/or quotas under the Act could drive greater progress.
While the Act creates a strong framework to assess and improve gender inequities in the public sector workforce, society-wide cultural change will require the majority of Victorian workplaces outside of the current scope of the Act to also make progress on gender equality. The work of the Commission and defined entities demonstrates leadership in workplace gender equality and provides an opportunity to inspire change beyond the public sector.
While not a ‘silver bullet’ for addressing gender inequality across our whole society, by measuring and understanding gender inequalities in workplaces, developing deliberate, evidence-based strategies and action to address these, and transparently monitoring and reporting progress, we can achieve more powerful progress towards gender equality in Victoria and beyond.
Gender-disaggregated data in this report
Due to the data challenges mentioned above, this first Baseline report focuses on the high-level findings of the inaugural workplace gender audit, disaggregated by gender.
For the purposes of the 2021 workplace gender audit, the Commission asked defined entities to collect gender-disaggregated data within three categories – women, men and self-described gender, recognising that some people identify their gender as being ‘woman’ or ‘man’ and some people understand their gender as a combination of these or neither. Some defined entities already collect gender data in this way, but many do not yet offer a self-described gender option.
Where there was sufficient data to report on the experiences of people of self-described gender in a meaningful way, the Commission has included this data in this report.
Intersectionality and this report
Alongside gender-disaggregated data, one area where the Commission has a more complete dataset is for experiences across different age brackets. This is because most organisations already have systems in place to collect and maintain accurate data about the age of their employees. Where possible, some of these age-related insights are included in this Baseline report.
In presenting this information, the Baseline report indicates where existing research and data tell us that intersecting forms of inequality have an impact on workplace gender equality. However, the Commission is not yet able to use its data to produce accompanying analyses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disability, people from diverse cultural backgrounds or religions, or LGBTQI+ individuals.
Intersectional data is sensitive. It is data about individuals who may belong to marginalised communities and who may experience discrimination and harassment.6 The Commission is dedicated to ensuring that its analysis of this data is robust and that it does not misrepresent the experiences of groups who already experience inequality.
Doing this work properly will take time, so in 2023 the Commission will produce a companion report to this Baseline report, focusing on the analysis of its intersectional data and incorporating key findings and recommendations from the research it has commissioned (and mentioned above).
This Baseline report is based on the 2021 workplace gender audit reports submitted to the Commissioner for Gender Equality in the Public Sector, Dr Niki Vincent by 298 organisations covered by the Act.
Under the Act, every defined entity was required to undertake a workplace gender audit in order to assess the state and nature of gender inequality in its workplace as at 30 June in the Gender Equality Action Plan reporting year. The first reporting year was 2021.
The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector published workplace gender audit guidance in 2020 to advise defined entities of how to undertake a workplace gender audit.
The workplace gender audit required the collection of gender-disaggregated data – which is data that is broken down separately for women, men and gender diverse people – against the 7 workplace gender equality indicators set out in the Act. The indicators are:
- Gender composition of all levels of the workforce
- Gender composition of governing bodies
- Equal remuneration for work of equal or comparable value across all levels of the workforce, irrespective of gender
- Sexual harassment in the workplace
- Recruitment and promotion practices in the workplace
- Availability and utilisation of terms, conditions and practices relating to family violence leave, flexible working arrangements and working arrangements supporting workers with family or caring responsibilities
- Gendered segregation within the workplace
If available, defined entities were also required to report data about Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion and sexual orientation and were required to have regard to the disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience on the basis of these attributes in addition to gender inequality (i.e. compounded or intersectional gender inequality).
Data measures and types
The 2021 measures were selected based on an extensive evidence review of local and international literature, consultation with key stakeholders including the Commission’s practice leaders group composed of 10 organisations representing different industries covered under the Act, the Commission’s Implementation Support Advisory Committee made up of leaders from across key stakeholder organisations including relevant unions and peak bodies, as well as commissioned expert research advice from the Social Research Centre.
As part of the 2021 workplace gender audit, organisations covered by the Act collected two categories of data – workforce data and employee experience data. The workforce data was extracted from defined entities’ internal data collection systems and provided to the Commission through an Excel template that was uploaded through the Commission’s reporting platform. The employee experience data was collected through surveys. The Victorian Public Sector Commission administered the questions required by the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector via the People Matter Survey to about 90% of organisations covered by the Act. The remaining defined entities used another survey provider or administered the survey in-house and then uploaded the results to the Commission’s reporting platform. Each organisation covered by the Act was surveyed separately, and the results were reported as percentages of respondents. Items with fewer than 10 responses were suppressed by the survey provider to protect respondents’ privacy.
Information provided to the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector was managed in line with relevant privacy laws. Defined entities were responsible for their own compliance with relevant privacy laws, including the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 (Vic) (PDP Act).
Evaluating workplace gender audit compliance
The Commission conducted a series of automated and manual tests measuring the quality, consistency and completeness of each workplace gender audit submission. The main objective of these tests was to determine whether each organisation met its obligations under the Act. For example, the Act requires that audits have regard to the equal remuneration workplace gender equality indicator – so if an organisation did not include pay data in its audit, it was evaluated as non-compliant. About 90% of organisations submitted compliant audits on the first attempt.
The secondary objective was to determine how closely each submission aligned to the guidance and data specifications we published. For example, the workplace gender audit guidance instructed organisations to report their employees’ pay as annualised figures. If an organisation instead reported its employees’ hourly pay rates, it was evaluated as compliant but not meeting our specifications. In cases like this, the Commission notified the organisation that their audit submission had been accepted, but that some of their data would be excluded from analysis and reporting.
Every organisation received feedback on their audit submission and was given an opportunity to revise their data. More than 90 organisations revised their audit data, including more than 50 voluntary resubmissions where organisations elected to improve the quality of their submission.
Workplace gender audit data quality
The most common issue observed with audit submissions was missing data. This audit was the most comprehensive workforce data collection exercise many organisations had ever undertaken, so some gaps in datasets were anticipated by the Commission.
The Commission also learnt that most organisations do not yet collect the demographic data required for intersectional analysis. This means organisations are missing out on the opportunity to identify areas where gender inequality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination.
Within the data organisations supplied, the most common issue observed was inconsistency between different parts of an audit. For example, if one data table indicated that an organisation employed 20 women on a part-time basis, but another table included only 19 women employed on a part-time basis, both tables were flagged for the organisation’s attention.
Baseline analysis datasets
To calculate baseline results at the sector and industry levels, the Commission compiled audit submissions into 3 analysis datasets. Each was comprised of audit submissions received by the Commission as at 30 June 2022.7
Fig 0.2. Summary of workforce gender audit analysis datasets
Aggregated workforce data (296 organisations)
Pre-aggregated data drawn from organisations’ payroll and HR systems, presented mainly as headcounts
Aggregated employee experience data (293 organisations)
Pre-aggregated data drawn from employee experience survey results, presented as percentages of respondents
Unit level workforce data (273 organisations)
De-identified employee-level data drawn from organisations’ payroll and HR systems
Because the employee experience results were reported as percentages of respondents within each organisation, the survey results have been weighted based on the size and gender composition of each defined entity to produce the estimates included in this report.
The Commission received assistance in data analysis assistance from EY and GenderWorks in the preparation of this report.
Structure of the report
This report is structured in accordance with the key workplace gender equality indicators set out in the Act. Each chapter begins by explaining the importance of measuring progress against that indicator, followed by an overview of what data was collected for each indicator. This is followed by an examination of key findings, at industry and whole-of-sector levels. Each chapter concludes with a short discussion and includes recommendations relating to improving data collection and analysis processes to drive workplace gender equality progress.
- P Nangia and T Arora, ‘Discrimination in the workplace in Canada: An intersectional approach’, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 2021, 46(2):147–177.
- M Glennie et al., Gender pay gap reporting in Australia -Time for an upgrade, Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, 2021, accessed 25 July 2022.
- K Crenshaw, ‘Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics’, University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, 1(8): 139–167.
- Note that organisations may supersede prior audit submissions to correct errors or omissions. This may result in discrepancies between the results presented in this report and those presented through the Commission’s insights portal.