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Frequently asked questions - Gender Equality Act

Answering your questions about the Gender Equality Act.

Gender impact assessments

  • The Act requires defined entities to conduct gender impact assessments of policies, programs and services that have a direct and significant impact on the public, when they’re new or up for review.

    This means that defined entities are not required to conduct a gender impact assessment of all policies, programs and services that are currently in place. Only new policies, programs and services and those undergoing a formal review process must have a gender impact assessment done.

  • It is up to defined entities to determine what is direct and significant based on their understanding of their business context. However, the Commission will soon publish guidance to assist with applying the term ‘direct and significant’ to understand what policies, programs and services require a gender impact assessment.

    We encourage defined entities to be wide-ranging and creative in their application of gender impact assessments. Defined entities can conduct a gender impact assessment on any piece of work whether small or large.

  • The obligation to conduct gender impact assessments commenced on 31 March 2021 and is an ongoing requirement. The number of gender impact assessments a defined entity completes each year will depend on each organisation. There is no minimum or maximum required.

    Defined entities may initially choose to put more resources towards conducting gender impact assessments of more significant or impactful pieces of work. Defined entities could also approach initial gender impact assessments as an internal pilot.

    We recommend defined entities work to embed gender impact assessments within business-as-usual processes. For example, template guidance for how to design a service or a policy could include questions to prompt responsible staff to apply a gender impact assessment to the piece of work.

  • The length of time a gender impact assessment takes may vary significantly depending on the nature of the policy, program or service being assessed. As a general rule, a gender impact assessment for a piece of work with a deep and wide-ranging impact and significant funding implications would take longer than for a piece of work with a lower impact.

    Similarly, the required resources might vary significantly. Defined entities should consider establishing a variety of models of resourcing dependent on the policy, program or service being reviewed.

  • Defined entities need to report to the Commission about gender impact assessments in their progress reports. Progress reports are due every two years, with the first due in October 2023.

    Progress reports must include information about what gender impact assessments have been undertaken within the reporting period and what the outcomes of the gender impact assessments were. This means that defined entities are not required to report the full level of detail that is captured through the gender impact assessment process to the Commission.

    We recommend that defined entities establish a central document to track gender impact assessments and capture required information for reporting.

  • Gender impact assessments are required for policies, services and programs that are new or up for review and that have a direct and significant impact on the public.

    This may exclude many internal policies, such as a recruitment policy, as their impact on the public, if any, would be indirect.

    However, defined entities should still consider whether any internal policies, programs or services may be considered to have a direct impact on the public.

  • There is no one way to conduct a gender impact assessment. However, the Commission has published a best-practice toolkit to help guide defined entities through the process.

    We recommend defined entities refer to the toolkit to support critical thinking and reflection throughout the gender impact assessment process. We are also working to provide further gender impact assessment case studies in the near future.

  • Some defined entities may be required to or may be contracted to deliver or implement policies, programs or services that are established by other bodies. For example, this could include State or Local Government procurement and funding policies, or a program where a defined entity’s services are procured by another defined entity.

    Currently, responsibility for a gender impact assessment sits with the defined entity who develops the policy, program or service. This includes responsibility for ensuring gender impact assessment is included in implementation planning.

    A defined entity who is sub-contracted to deliver a policy, program or service is not required to undertake a gender impact assessment of that piece of work. However, they may still be required to take necessary and proportionate actions to consider, promote and achieve gender equality as part of their duty to promote gender equality.

  • No. Gender impact assessments focus on how your policies, programs and services impact members of the public. You are not required to report on gender impact assessments in your Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP) as your GEAP focuses on workplace gender equality within your organisation.

Workplace gender audits

  • Under the legislation as it currently stands, a workplace gender audit is required every GEAP reporting year (which is every 4 years starting in 2021).

    As part of progress reports due every two years, defined entities need to report on progress against the gender equality indicators. In practice, this means defined entities will need to undertake an audit every two years.

    The Commission will seek to prescribe regulations to this effect, noting that regulations are subject to standard legislative processes for approval including consultation with affected sectors.

  • Workplace gender audits must be based on data available as at 30 June in a GEAP reporting year.

    For the first audit, this means workforce data should be captured on 30 June 2021. This data capture can occur on a date following 30 June.

    Employee experience data should be collected in the period from April-June 2021 if possible.

    Defined entities can start preparing for the audit well before 30 June, by identifying and engaging with all the teams or people who will be able to assist with data collection, and conducting a test audit using our indicative reporting template available on our workplace gender auditing site.

  • Defined entities’ workplace gender audit data must be submitted with their GEAP by 1 December 2021. Note the data for the audits should still be captured as at 30 June 2021.

  • The Commission’s workplace gender audit guidance sets out the required data for an audit.

    There are two separate but complementary data sets: workforce data (likely held in internal systems such as payroll), and employee experience data (collected via an all-staff survey).

    Including both data sets is critical to provide a full picture of the state and nature of gender inequality so that defined entities can identify and address existing inequalities.

  • We acknowledge that some organisations may not yet collect non-binary data around gender (self-described category), may have data on sex (male/female) rather than data on gender (man/woman/self-described), and/or have limited data to support intersectional analysis such as data on disability, Aboriginality, or cultural identity.

    We also acknowledge there may be other data gaps. We encourage defined entities to identify these gaps as early as possible and determine if they can be closed.

    If some data cannot be sourced, we encourage defined entities to include strategies to improve data quality in their GEAP so the next time they complete an audit their data will be more complete.

  • Employee experience data and workforce data are complementary (but separate) data sets. Employee experience data helps to tell a more complete story when viewed alongside the workforce data that is formally recorded in HR systems. However, no employee experience data should appear in the workforce data reporting template.

  • The employee experience questions, alongside additional guidance on maintaining privacy, have been published on our page on workplace gender auditing.

    For public sector organisations and local councils who have chosen to participate in the People Matter Survey 2021 or the People Matter Survey for Local Government 2021, the necessary questions will be administered by the Victorian Public Sector Commission (VPSC). VPSC will provide participating organisations with their survey results.

    For other defined entities, we strongly recommend that they engage a third party to administer the survey as these questions include personal questions that have privacy implications. The third-party provider should follow the directions contained within the privacy guidance.

  • Defined entities can utilise existing surveys for their workplace gender audit requirements. However, they must add the questions the Commission has published.

    Having the same questions across all defined entities means progress can be measured in a consistent way over time, and defined entities will be able to compare their results with their sector and whole of public sector benchmarks.

  • Defined entities should aim for a high rate of survey participation to ensure as many people’s voices are heard as possible. In general, you should aim for 25% participation at a minimum.

    The Commission understands that survey response rates may vary due to a variety of factors. In combination with comprehensive workforce data, employee experience data allows defined entities to get a fuller picture of the state and nature of gender inequality in their workplace.

  • The Commission is currently developing an online reporting platform to facilitate reporting. Because of this, the format data in which data is to be provided is subject to change.

    An indicative workforce data reporting template is available on the workplace gender audit page to give an indication of format. The template has been updated with additional functionality and clarifications based on feedback we've received so far, and may help defined entities conduct a test audit.

  • The Act requires that workplace gender audit results are included as part of a defined entity’s Gender Equality Action Plan. The Act also requires that GEAPs are published on the defined entity’s website within a reasonable timeframe following submission to the Commission.

    This means that workplace gender audit data must be published. The Commission will also publish audit data from all defined entities on our website.

    Importantly, defined entities and the Commission must ensure that personal and identifying information is removed before publishing.

Gender Equality Action Plans

  • Defined entities can take several steps to commence GEAP development prior to conducting their audit. These may include:

    • Commencing consultation and engagement with leaders.
    • Reviewing previously collected data to identify where attention might need to be focused.
    • Researching best-practice strategies and measures to improve workplace gender equality.
    • Developing a consultation plan to ensure the requirement to consult with employees, employee representatives and the governing body is met.
  • When developing a GEAP, defined entities must consult with the governing body of the entity, employees, employee representatives (such as unions) and any other relevant person. We also recommend that consultation includes relevant external bodies such as peak bodies and gender equality experts where possible.

    At least 2 rounds of consultation should be conducted. Prior to the development of strategies and measures, an initial round of consultation will allow you to share the results of your workplace gender audit with employees. Further consultation will facilitate feedback about proposed strategies and measures to be included in your GEAP.

    The GEAP guide contains guidance on conducting meaningful consultation.

  • No. The GEAP is intended to focus on strategies and measures to improve workplace gender equality, developed on the basis of workplace gender audit results.

    Defined entities may choose to include content related to their work to improve gender equality in the community, which may include reference to conducting gender impact assessments. However, this is not required by the Act.

Progress reporting

  • Visit our page on reporting progress for more information on progress reporting. We will be providing further guidance around the content and format for progress reports in 2022.

  • The Commissioner acknowledges that progress will look different for every defined entity.

    The Act requires that the Commissioner must consider several factors when determining whether reasonable and material progress has been made. These factors include the size of the defined entity, the nature and circumstances of the defined entity including their resources and competing priorities, the defined entity’s other legislated obligations, and whether the defined entity has made genuine attempts to make progress.

Compliance

  • Visit our page on compliance for more information on compliance.

    Importantly, the Commissioner will seek to resolve any compliance issues informally and in collaboration with the defined entity in the first instance.

Intersectionality

  • The Commission is developing guidance to support defined entities to apply an intersectional approach to their work under the Act. This will be available in mid-2021.

    In the interim, defined entities should ensure they are taking steps to consider the intersectional principle of the Act - that gender inequality may be compounded by disadvantage or discrimination people may experience on the basis of attributes other than gender.

    This could involve seeking ways to sensitively capture relevant data, ensuring diverse employees and employee groups are consulted in GEAP development, and making sure to research about and consult with diverse communities when conducting gender impact assessments.

  • Workplace gender audit data should include data on attributes other than gender, such as race and sexual orientation, if available. The Act does not require defined entities to collect this data in order to be compliant, however we do encourage defined entities to consider how this data collection may be strengthened.

    When collecting personal information at the onboarding stage or as part of HR records, we recommend ensuring that the intention behind the collection of data is clearly articulated, and that questions are non-mandatory. Staff must always have the option not to disclose.

Privacy

  • Defined entities have existing obligations under relevant privacy legislation that they must meet when conducting work required under the Gender Equality Act. In addition, the Act requires defined entities remove any personal information from their GEAPs or progress reports prior to publishing.

    Defined entities should seek the advice of their responsible Privacy Officer and the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC).

    The Commission is carefully considering and consulting on how we can best support defined entities to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of their employees as they collect sensitive information to understand and address gender inequality in their organisation, as well as support sector transparency.

Dispute resolution

  • Visit our page on dispute resolution for more information about the dispute resolution process and the types of disputes that the Commissioner can help to resolve.

    We will also shortly publish detailed guidance to provide further clarity.

  • No, the Act does not require any particular clause to be included in enterprise agreements.

    However, employees, employers and employee representatives can only refer disputes relating to systemic gender inequality to the Commissioner when there is a clause in the relevant enterprise agreement that allows for the Commissioner’s involvement.

    The process of negotiating the contents of enterprise agreements is up to employees, employers, and employee representatives.

Support and resourcing

  • The Commission acknowledges that the new legislation means defined entities must meet several new obligations that have resourcing implications.

    However, in the long term, the Act aims to increase efficiency through better policies, programs and services and more engaged and respected workforces. To recognise the importance of this, the Act requires that defined entities ensure adequate resources are allocated to developing and implementing their Gender Equality Action Plan.

    To support defined entities, to date we have taken the following steps:

    • Published detailed guidance materials on undertaking workplace gender audits, gender impact assessments and Gender Equality Action Plans
    • Developed our website to include resources including research, tools and guidelines across a range of different areas
    • Established a Panel of Providers to support defined entities, and funded these experts to deliver tailored, sector-based workshops on gender impact assessments, workplace gender auditing, and developing gender equality strategies and measures

    We will use this year as a baseline to understand how much support will be required for future years. We expect capacity and capability to grow as organisations become more familiar with the Act and how best to meet their obligations.

  • Yes. If defined entities need additional support, they can engage Panel members as trusted suppliers, or other suppliers if they wish, at their own cost. Contact details are available on the Panel of Providers page.

Regulations

  • Currently, there are regulations in place that help clarify parts of the Act and make it easier for certain defined entities to meet their obligations.

    Read more about the regulations.

  • Yes, the Commission is considering further regulations to help achieve the objectives of the Act and support defined entities to meet obligations. Any future regulations will be subject to standard legislative processes for approval, including consultation with affected sectors.

  • No. Following the first reporting cycle, the Commission will analyse the data received and consider what targets and quotas might be prescribed in regulations. Any regulations prescribing targets and quotas will be subject to standard legislative processes for approval, including consultation with affected sectors.

Local government

  • The new Local Government Act 2020 includes a requirement to develop a workforce plan every four years. The workforce plan must include measures relating to gender equality. By doing a Gender Equality Action Plan that meets the requirements of the Gender Equality Act, councils will be meeting this requirement of the Local Government Act. Please note that complying with the gender equality requirements of the Local Government Act will not satisfy the requirements of the Gender Equality Act.

  • Councils are not required to formally conduct a gender impact assessment of major plans and strategies such as the Council Plan or Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plan.

    However, it is important to ensure that your strategic direction considers the needs and experiences of Victorians of all genders. We encourage councils to incorporate a gender impact assessment process from the earliest stages of design and development of policies, programs and services.

  • For local councils, the governing body as defined in the Act is comprised of the Mayor and Councillors. We acknowledge that councils do not have control over the gender composition of the group of Councillors, as they are democratically elected.

    As the governing body, Councillors must be consulted in the development of councils’ Gender Equality Action Plans. Councillors are not required to formally adopt or endorse the Gender Equality Action Plan.

Universities

  • Universities already collect a broad range of gender equality data in order to meet their Workplace Gender Equality Act (WGEA) requirements. Much of this data can be used to complete a workplace gender audit under the Gender Equality Act. However, some of the specific data measures required under each Act will be different.

    In addition, reporting timeframes under the Act are different to those under WGEA. To recognise the additional burden this may place on universities, the Commissioner has agreed to allow universities to align their Gender Equality Act reporting period with their WGEA reporting period. This will be formalised through regulations.

  • Universities should consider students as part of the ‘public’ when determining which policies, services and programs require a gender impact assessment due to their direct and significant impact on the public.

Reviewed 11 June 2021

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