Executive Summary

The Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector is driving intersectional gender equality through the Gender Equality Act.

Driving intersectional gender equality through the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic)

Under the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) (the Act) organisations covered by the Act ‑ known as defined entities – are subject to a number of obligations that require them to take positive and transparent action towards achieving gender equality in their workplaces and in their public policies, programs and services. 

One part of what makes the Act nation leading is that it explicitly invokes the concept of compounded inequality (Ryan et al. 2022). The Act states that, where possible, the data that defined entities collect should capture not only gender, but also intersecting forms of disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience based on Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes. The Act requires defined entities to use this data to drive positive and transparent progress towards intersectional gender equality.

The Commission is committed to supporting defined entities to meet their obligations under the Act through improved training, education, and guidance resources. This report represents the first step in building a baseline for ongoing progress on intersectional gender equality in Victoria. Across 5 chapters, it investigates how the intersection of gender and one other attribute (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status, age, ability, cultural and racial marginalisation, and LGBTIQ+ status) shape workplace experiences. These findings demonstrate how gender inequality is compounded by other forms of discrimination in the Victorian public sector, offering useful starting points for organisations considering how to best implement meaningful change. 

The pay gaps experienced by people facing intersecting inequalities must be closed

The Commission’s audit data demonstrates that many groups that face intersecting forms of discrimination and disadvantage experience significant pay gaps. Pay gaps were largest between First Nations women when compared with non-Indigenous men, at 21% across all industries covered by the Commission’s audit data. The public health industry recorded the largest pay gap between these two groups at 35%. While the pay gaps between First Nations men and non-Indigenous men (12%), and non-Indigenous women and men (15%) were also high, the much larger gap in salaries for First Nations women clearly demonstrates the negative and compounding effects of inequality based on gender and First Nations status. However, no pay gap should remain unaddressed. 

Likewise, the Commission’s audit data demonstrated that women with disabilities experienced large pay gaps when compared with men without disabilities, at 19% across all industries. The pay gap between men with disability and men without disability was approximately half the above at 10%, while the pay gap between women and men without disabilities across all industries was 13%, again demonstrating the negative and compounding effects of inequality based on gender and ability. Women with disability also had lower levels of confidence in the promotion practices in their organisations. This may indicate barriers to accessing career progression that could further impact the salaries of women with disabilities. Further research is required to understand these connections.

Pay gaps were also significant between culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) women and non-CARM men (19%), and between trans, non-binary and other gender diverse employees and cisgender men, both at 18%. The pay gaps between CARM men and non-CARM men (11%) and non-CARM women and men (13%), as well as between cisgender women and cisgender men (15%) – while still high – were notably smaller. As stated above, no pay gap should go unaddressed. However, these findings again highlight the negative and compounding effects of gender and CARM status on pay inequality.

High rates of sexual harassment among certain groups require urgent attention

Younger women, people with disabilities and LGBTIQ+ people reported experiencing markedly high rates of sexual harassment in Victorian public sector workplaces. Fourteen per cent of women aged 15-24 and 11% of women aged 25-34 reported experiencing sexual harassment in the previous 12 months. This compares to 4% and 5% respectively of men in the same age groups.

Twelve per cent of women with disabilities reported experiencing sexual harassment, a figure 4% higher than men with disability, twice the rate of women without disabilities, and 4 times the rate of men without disabilities. These findings reflect existing research, which has described rates of sexual violence against women with disability in Australia as ‘endemic’ (Dowse et al. 2016). The relatively higher rate of the experience of sexual harassment reported by men with disability also demands attention. 

While gay men and straight women reported similar rates of experience of sexual harassment (7% and 6% respectively) this was double the rate reported by straight men (3%). All other non-heterosexual women and men reported much higher rates of the experience of sexual harassment (between 10-15%). Transwomen and other trans, non-binary or gender diverse people also reported far higher rates of experiencing sexual harassment (16% and 15% respectively) than transgender men (8%) and cisgender women (6%) and men (4%). Thus, while the experience of sexual harassment is unacceptable for anyone, this is an issue of particularly urgent concern for those who are not cisgendered men and/or straight men.

The underrepresentation of CARM women in senior positions across the Victorian public sector is concerning

Only 3% of CARM women reported that they held a senior management role, and only 9% were in a supervisory position (compared with non-CARM men at 14% and 21% respectively). While CARM women experience even worse leadership outcomes than other disadvantaged groups, such as First Nations women (with representation at 6% and 11% respectively), women with disabilities (with representation at 5% and 12% respectively) and transwomen (at 4% and 10% respectively), the low representation of all these groups of women in senior management and supervisory roles needs to be addressed. It is notable that CARM men are also poorly represented in leadership positions, with only 6% in senior manager roles and 13% in supervisory positions - similar to non-CARM women at 7% and 15% respectively, and with comparable pay gaps in some industries. 

Age continues to amplify women's experiences of workplace gender inequality 

As noted above, the Commission’s data demonstrates that age and gender combine to increase the risk of sexual harassment for young women in the Victorian public sector. Women at the midpoint of their careers also experience the compounded effects of gender and age discrimination, with pay gaps widening and leadership opportunities diminishing. In this stage of life, gendered norms around care work begin to significantly impact upon women’s ability to prioritise their careers in the same way as men. Over time, the compounding effects of age and gender discrimination result in a gender pay gap favouring men in every age bracket increasing from 25-34 until 55-64, after which it tapers off slightly.

Organisations must do more to address the negative workplace experiences of some LGBTIQ+ employees

There is a troubling lack of available data pertaining to the experiences of non-binary and gender diverse people. These groups report lower salaries than their cisgender colleagues and are the least likely of any gender identity to agree that recruitment and promotion process in their organisation are fair. Better data collection in relation to gender diverse employees will help to make the experiences of this cohort visible. Better data is also crucial to grounding and focussing interventions to address the issues.

Lesbian women are an exception to the wider finding that women facing compounding inequalities tend to experience an income penalty

Lesbian women in the Commission’s data set had, on average, higher salaries than bisexual and pansexual men and women in all other sexuality groups. Lesbian women also held managerial positions at a similar rate to both straight and gay men. This finding could point to lesbian women’s increased ability to avoid traditional heterosexual divisions of labour, enabling them to focus more on their career development. Further research is required to better understand these findings.

The Commission’s data may signal positive change in relation to diversity, inclusion and safety in some areas

Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and men were roughly equally likely to report that the recruitment and promotion practices in their workplace were fair. CARM women and men also reported lower instances of sexual harassment than their non-CARM colleagues of the same gender. However, it is unclear whether these more promising findings indicate that groups experiencing intersectional discrimination face fewer instances of workplace inequality in public sector workplaces compared to other sectors, or whether they are instead indicative of reporting challenges which can skew the accuracy of data.

In the case of sexual harassment reporting in particular, data accuracy is known to at times be limited, because diverse groups may understand or identify incidences of sexual harassment differently (Respect@Work n.d). However, the fact that the People matter survey (PMS) is an anonymous survey that asks questions about experiences of specific behaviours is a positive sign that diverse employees in Victorian public sector workplaces may feel less discriminated against and experience lower rates of sexual harassment than diverse workers in some other sectors. The Commission’s sexual harassment reporting data may have also been skewed in this reporting period by the COVID-19 context, where public sector workers were likely to be working from home rather than in the office. Given the Commission’s funded research highlights the continued negative workplace experiences of both First Nations and CARM women, there is still work to be done to ensure workplace gender equality for all (Bargallie et al. 2023; Cho and Segrave 2023).

Better data is crucial for ensuring better workplace outcomes for everybody 

Improved intersectional data collection practices, built on the inclusion of diverse voices, are crucial for driving positive change in organisations. Organisations must carefully consider their approach to intersectional data collection, analysis and interpretation. At every stage of the data collection, analysis and interpretation process, organisations should meaningfully engage diverse voices in their organisation to ensure that their practices and approach to addressing intersectional gender equality are reflective of, and responsive to, lived experiences of disadvantage and discrimination in their workplaces. Demonstrating commitment to consultation and meaningful input from diverse voices will also help organisations to build the trust and accountability necessary for individuals to feel comfortable sharing their personal information.