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2021 research projects

The Inaugural Research Grants Round 2021 funded 4 academic teams and one public sector collaboration.

Assessing progress in implementing the Gender Equality Act 2020 – RMIT University

This research focused on the Department of Transport. It assessed work to increase women’s employment in the transport sector.

The research team

  • Dr Aida Ghalebeigi
  • Professor Victor Gekara
  • Dr Karen Douglas
  • Mr Salvatore Ferraro
  • Dr Lena Wang
  • Dr Maryam Safari

How was the research conducted?

The research included:

  • analysis of state and federal policies
  • analysis of internal policies
  • analysis of workforce data
  • interviews with key executives
  • staff focus groups.

The researchers reviewed gender equality legislation in Australia and national workforce data. They reviewed Department of Transport’s gender equality policies. Qualitative data included interviews with 22 senior leaders and 4 focus groups. In the focus groups, staff members from a mix of roles and genders discussed challenges, opportunities and progress.

Since the research was first released, the department has been renamed the Department of Transport and PlanningExternal Link .

What did the research find?

Gender and workforce

  • More women are working at the Department of Transport since it merged with Public Transport Victoria and VicRoads in 2019.
  • Most women work in human resources and administration.
  • There is a lack of women in operational and engineering roles.
  • Few women are in senior management and executive roles. This suggests a lack of systems and structures for supporting women to senior roles.
  • Women are more likely to work part time. This can affect job security, career progression and the gender pay gap.

Causes of workplace gender inequality

  • The analysis shows strong executive commitment to achieving gender equality.
  • This did not filter down to individual managers who didn’t see gender equality as a priority.
  • Gender based stereotypes and unconscious bias rewarded ‘masculine traits’.
  • Job descriptions used language aimed at men.
  • Unconscious bias meant female colleagues were ignored, and some felt overlooked for promotion.
  • Because of this culture, fewer women sought jobs and were more likely to leave than men.

Strategies and policies

  • The Department of Transport has policies and strategies for gender equality.
  • The department has Executive Champions, which creates accountability within leadership.
  • Executive champions report to the Secretary on progress, challenges and resources.
  • The Women in Transport strategy is the main gender equality policy. This applies to the department as well as the private transport sector. This can drive broader change but could undermine targeted action within the department.
  • There was no common approach to gender equality by managers.


  • The department set a target that 50% of the workforce will be women by 2023.
  • It also has a target for women to make up 50% of those in leadership roles (VPS5 and above) by 2023.
  • It is not clear how these targets were set, or how they can be achieved.
  • Based on workforce modelling, this would need 70% of new hires to be women.


The research made recommendations for the Department of Transport.

  1. Resource and support culture change, and a workplace gender equality mindset
  2. Build structures and processes to remove biases in recruitment, promotion and role assignments
  3. Set realistic targets and create plans for how to meet them
  4. Help managers to support flexible work arrangements for women and men
  5. Increase understanding of intersectionality.

Read the full report

Citing this research

Ghalebeigi et al., ‘Assessing progress in implementing the Gender Equality Act 2020’, RMIT University, 2022

Gender-sensitive training for safe and inclusive communities: A pilot for transformative placemaking in the public sector – Monash University

This project developed an online training program for public sector organisations.

The research team

  • Associate Professor Nicole Kalms
  • Associate Professor Gene Bawden
  • Dr Jess Berry
  • Dr Gill Matthewson
  • Isabella Webb

How was the research conducted?

The Monash University XYX Lab developed online training for local government employees and the broader urban design and architecture industry. It aims to help them:

  • understand gender-inclusive and safety concepts to evaluate gender-sensitive placemaking projects
  • develop an informed gender lens to apply to their own work
  • advocate for gender-sensitive placemaking within the workplace
  • undertake informed and gender-sensitive design of policy, urban spaces, or inclusion programs in public space.

The research team:

  • audited research on gender-sensitive design for streets, parks, public transport and urban spaces
  • collated international best-practice approaches to intersectionality in gender-sensitive placemaking
  • collated online training materials
  • delivered three training overviews for feedback from an expert panel of metro and regional councils
  • prepared online training material for Monash University’s learning platform.

What did the research find?

The public sector expert panel provided feedback on the training. Feedback commended:

  • the practical and multi-strategy tools of the course
  • learning to ‘walk in the shoes’ of others and not plan only from a technical point of view
  • the opportunity for reflection in the course
  • applying a gender lens across a broad council cohort
  • the commitment to better design of safe spaces for women
  • meeting Gender Equality Act requirements in applying gender impact assessments
  • the use of live projects with opportunities to create change while building understanding.

The expert panel found the training would benefit defined entities by:

  • empowering organisations to use a gender lens and meet community needs
  • making a gender-sensitive design lens the norm
  • ensuring a multi-strategy approach to safety for women and gender-diverse people
  • giving cross-council teams the opportunity to collaborate through the course.


  • Public spaces and infrastructure must meet the needs of the whole community. Local and state government should use holistic approaches to planning.
  • State and local government should provide leadership in inclusive placemaking.
  • Increase the understanding of a gender lens to increase understanding of gender equality.
  • Prioritise women’s diverse experiences and uses when planning and designing public places.
  • Support online learning on gender-sensitive and inclusive placemaking for individuals, teams and organisations.
  • Gender-Sensitive Training for Inclusive PlacemakingExternal Link can help prevent gender-based violence in public spaces.

Read the full report

Citing this research

Kalms et al., ‘Gender-sensitive training for safe and inclusive communities: A pilot for transformative placemaking in the public sector’, Monash University, 2022

How defined entities can achieve gender equality for Culturally Diverse Women in the Victorian Public Sector – Mind Tribes and the Victorian Multicultural Commission

This research explored practical approaches to break down barriers in the workplace for culturally and linguistically diverse women.

The research team

The Victorian Multicultural Commission and Mind Tribes partnered on this research.

Project sponsors - Victorian Multicultural Commission:

  • Vivienne Nguyen
  • Celia Tran

Researchers - Mind Tribes:

  • Vick Pillay
  • Prabha Jayasinghe
  • Amy Light

How was the research conducted?

The study used qualitative research, beginning with a literature review. It then interviewed researchers, practitioners and members of the Victorian Public Service (VPS). The Victorian Multicultural Commission provided input throughout the project.

What did the research find?

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women face intersecting barriers at work.

The primary causes of these barriers are:

  • systemic – racism, sexism, tokenism, stereotypes and biases
  • organisational – devaluation of skills and experiences, pigeonholing, lack of support networks
  • personal – lack of confidence and language barriers.

Many organisations intend to create inclusion through diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. But most initiatives occur in isolation and are not reflected in organisational goals or systems. Initiatives often focus on individual assimilation into existing structures, instead of changing structures.

Most organisations lack metrics to measure the experiences of CALD women.

The research found three main gaps in approaches to supporting CALD women in the workplace. These are the need to:

  • view initiatives through an intersectional lens and fix systemic barriers that cause inequality
  • align diversity, equity and inclusion goals to organisational strategies and measure progress
  • create initiatives targeting top-down change that create a trickle-down effect.


Organisations must take a holistic approach that includes systemic, organisational and individual change.

They should set metrics and targets to ensure accountability for progress.

Organisations should review their policies to ensure they are free of discrimination.

Leadership must lead change through active advocacy and sponsorship for CALD women.

The framework

The researchers developed a framework to help organisations to break down barriers for CALD women.

It includes a model, which provides high-level guidance. The model has 6 levels that organisations can use as a benchmark as they plan and measure progress. It starts at Level 0 (entry level) and ends at Level 5 (inclusive, diverse organisation).

The framework steps organisations through:

  1. Assessment, using an assessment tool
  2. Creating an action plan, using the guidance in the model
  3. Progression against the model
  4. Review.

Kotter’s organisational change model

The research also recommends organisations apply this top-down guide to achieve change.

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

Johnson and Scholes’s Cultural Web framework

This approach considers 6 key elements for change.

  1. Stories that underscore organisational values
  2. Rituals and routines
  3. Symbols
  4. Formal organisational structure
  5. Control systems
  6. Power structures (both formal and informal)

Read the full report

Citing this research

Pillay et al ‘How defined entities can achieve gender equality for Culturally Diverse Women in the Victorian Public Sector’, Victorian Multicultural Commission and Mindtribes, 2022

Laying the Foundation for Gender Equality in the Public Sector – The University of Melbourne

This research examined the creation of the Gender Equality Act 2020. It identified risks and opportunities for its future success.

The research team

  • Associate Professor Alysia Blackham
  • Professor Beth Gaze
  • Professor Leah Ruppanner
  • Professor Susan Ainsworth
  • Doctoral Researcher and Research Project Manager Lauren Ryan

Research assistants:

  • Eileen Yang
  • Rosalind Scasserra
  • Sum Kiu Shu
  • Lloyd Rouse

How was the research conducted?

The research team:

  • analysed data from publicly available sources, including government and industry reports
  • reviewed academic articles
  • interviewed 44 gender practitioners, consultants and public sector employees.

They examined:

  • how the development of the Act evolved
  • the social, economic and political conditions that encouraged the Act's adoption
  • how the Act is being implemented by the Commission and organisations (defined entities)
  • what we can learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions.

The team identified risks and opportunities and provided recommendations.

What did the research find?

The adoption of the Act

The Act resulted from the Royal Commission into Family Violence. It had support from influential individuals and organisations. This included academics, trade unions and the women’s health sector. Consultations resulted in a stronger Act, including the creation of an independent commissioner. The research found compromises were also made, including to limit it to the public sector. Interviewees recognised the legislation needed to start somewhere.

The implementation of the Act

Most interviewees believed the Gender Equality Act is a highly effective way to improve gender equality in Victoria.

A lack of resourcing was a key challenge for the Commission and for organisations covered by the Act. COVID-19 created additional challenges.

The research found that most of the people doing the work under the Act are women. They are often employed through short-term contracts at junior levels. Many found it difficult to persuade senior managers (often men) of the importance of this work. Job insecurity and the challenges of COVID-19 led to high levels of stress and burnout.

Other common concerns were the lack of support from leaders and resistance to change. Many struggled to understand and apply ideas of intersectionality.

Interviewees said the support, resources and information from the Commission had been highly valuable and appreciated. Many also noted the demands placed on the Commission. They identified ways the Commission could better tailor its support.

The future of the Act

The research looked at similar legislation in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Canada. It found the focus on compliance led to ‘tick box’ responses in some cases. In contrast, Victoria’s Act requires reasonable and material progress. Beyond a focus on compliance, this supports substantive change.

Progress will also hinge on the Commission being willing and able to use its powers in the case of non-compliance.

The experience of other countries shows that confusion about requirements is common, especially early in implementation. This shows the need for target, tailored and practical support.


For the Victorian Government

  • Conduct ongoing reviews of the Act and consider how to extend its reach.
  • Provide resources and financial support for the Commission and defined entities.
  • Investigate sector-wide data systems support.

For the Commission

  • Continue to help organisations resource and plan for their work under the Act.
  • Develop more support and guidance materials, including examples.
  • Communicate lessons learned so far.
  • Develop nationally aligned approaches to workplace gender equality data and intersectional data.
  • Fund future research projects.

For organisations

  • Ensure leaders are accountable and commit adequate resourcing to deliver the Act.
  • Conduct continuous reviews of the implementation of the obligations under the Act.

Read the full report

Citing this research

Ryan et al., ‘Laying the foundation for gender equality in the public sector’, The University of Melbourne, 2022, Link

Reviewed 25 January 2023

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