Taking an intersectional approach to workplace gender auditing is necessary to understand whether your organisation’s systems, structures, policies, and practices are working to promote workplace gender equality for all.
Using workforce data and employee experience data to understand intersecting forms of inequality can add more complexity, but as this report has demonstrated, it is very important.
At the centre of the concept of intersectionality is the idea that experiences of inequality cannot be compartmentalised into distinct, separate categories (Bowleg 2008, p.314). However, analysing workforce and employee experience data with an intersectional lens involves combining and comparing data about different attributes – for example, comparing rates of sexual harassment for women with disabilities (combining gender and disability attribute data), versus other groups with different combinations of attributes. The Commission acknowledges that this approach does not fully reflect the concept of intersectionality.
Despite these limitations, workforce and employee experience data can provide important information about workplace outcomes for groups facing intersecting forms of disadvantage, including pay gaps, experiences of sexual harassment, access to training and promotional opportunities, and more. Additional qualitative data will need to be obtained to understand how groups facing intersecting forms of disadvantage experience inequality in the workplace and how to address this (Bowleg 2008; Hankivsy and Grace 2015).
The recommendations that follow are organised into 5 chronological sections. They are primarily aimed at defined entities with reporting obligations under the Act, but they may also be helpful for any organisation aiming to improve intersectional data collection about their workforce. Firstly, the chapter begins with a short section outlining key recommendations for approaching intersectionality and intersectional data collection within your organisation. The next 3 sections cover the 3 main activities of data collection, data analysis and data interpretation. The recommendations in each of these 3 sections provide advice on how to improve your collection and use of intersectional data across these phases of the process. Finally, the fifth section briefly outlines how to monitor and track your work over time.
The recommendations focus on how to improve intersectional data collection in your organisation. They do not provide advice on how to improve intersectional inequalities that organisations might uncover through their data collection, or other methods. The focus on data here is because many defined entities were unable to provide intersectional workforce data in the inaugural 2021 workplace gender audit. Collecting accurate data is central to understanding the state and nature of intersectional gender inequality in your organisation. For recommendations on how to address intersecting forms of disadvantage and discrimination in your organisation, you may consider reviewing projects funded under the Commission’s 2022 Research Grants Round (our grants focus on Aboriginal women, gender and caring, women with disability, migrant and refugee women, and gender in a rural context; also see our 2021 funded grant looking at how organisations can achieve gender equality for culturally diverse women), as well as resources from the Victorian Government (for LGBTIQ+ inclusion see ‘LGBTIQ+ workforce inclusion plans’ and ‘Gender affirmation in Victorian public sector workplaces’) and the Australian Public Service Commission (for a useful overview and further resources about age inclusion, see ‘Creating an age inclusive workplace’).
Having a clear understanding of intersectionality in your organisation will help you consider how to approach data collection, analysis and consultation with your employees and other stakeholders. It will also help you make informed decisions in addressing any inequalities you discover through your data.
The recommendations that follow primarily cover consideration of intersectionality in relation to collecting, analysing and interpreting your workforce and lived experience data. To learn more about how to apply intersectionality in your work (particularly with regard to your other obligations under the Gender Equality Act 2020 (Vic) (the Act)), please visit:
- Applying intersectionality in Gender Impact Assessments
- Applying intersectionality in Gender Equality Action Plans.
It is important to engage people with lived experience of varying forms of inequality to ensure your data collection, analysis and interpretation are respectful and fit-for-purpose. However, when involving diverse individuals in this work, it is important to ensure you are not creating unpaid or unrecognised labour for people in your organisation. Research funded by the Commission in 2021-22 found that the burden of work being done within organisations to meet the obligations under the Act disproportionately fell to women, particularly women with disability, women of colour and Aboriginal women (Ryan et al. 2022).
To ensure this work is not expected of marginalised groups in addition to their standard workload, you should formally allocate time in participants’ workload for them to take part. Offering times and modes of engagement that reflect flexible work and accessibility needs is also important. Where possible, avoid one-off forms of engagement with these groups, instead inviting them to participate in longer-term processes of improvement and change.
The Act specifies the kind of data you need to collect. You can learn more about specific strategies to collect data under the 7 workplace gender equality indicators in the Commission’s 2021 Baseline report. Recommendations are located at the end of each chapter. The recommendations that follow here are not organised around the workplace gender equality indicators but will help you to understand more broadly how to collect, analyse and interpret your data using an intersectional lens.
For more information on how to undertake a workplace gender audit, please visit our progress audit guidance.
If you are not doing so already, it is important that you start collecting demographic data from your employees to enable you to understand how gender inequality may be compounded by other forms of disadvantage or discrimination that a person may experience on the basis of Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation and other attributes. This is in addition to the data you collect on the 7 Workplace gender equality indicators.
To achieve this, your employee systems must be able to collect and store this type of data. These systems may be your workforce management, recruitment, training and payroll systems.
A good time to ask employees for this information is when a new individual joins your organisation as part of onboarding, as this is generally a time when you will collect a lot of information from the employee. Or you may want to ask for it during recruitment, noting that the incentive for a user to provide this information when the don’t have a guarantee of a job interview of job offer, may not be as compelling. You can also ask existing employees if they are prepared to provide this data so you can add it into your employee data systems retrospectively.
Be conscious of Recommendations 5 and 6, below, when designing your workforce systems. Also try to abide by the principle of ‘tell me once’. That is, if the potential or current employee has already provided you this information in another collection process, consider if you really need to ask for it again.
Conducting an employee experience survey is a great way for organisations to see where workers may be experiencing compounded disadvantage, but survey data does not show the full picture. Collecting both workforce data and employee experience data is important because they are complementary. They work together to give an organisation a holistic picture of its performance against the workplace gender equality indicators. Because employee experience data is not tied to an employee record, it cannot tell us things such as the exact remuneration an employee received, meaning it is impossible to calculate accurate pay gaps. In addition to remuneration information, workforce data can provide detail around career progression opportunities, leave-taking including parental leave, recruitment and exits, and occupational and hierarchical segregation within an organisation. For these reasons, it is important that both datasets include a robust range of demographic attributes.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission is currently leading the development of core, common workforce data standards for the collection of diversity information about public sector employees. Embedding these types of diversity workforce data standards into people and culture systems in organisations can help ensure effective and consistent workforce data collection.
Building an environment where your employees feel comfortable sharing personal information is crucial. This is particularly important where individuals with specific demographic attributes might stand out due to their small numbers in your organisation. Your employees will feel more comfortable to provide their personal information if they understand how it will be used and stored. Clearly communicating to your employees why you are collecting the information, how it will be used to support and benefit them and others in the organisation, and how it will be stored securely, can build trust, and allow them to provide informed consent. You can do this using tools like consent forms and data collection notices. You might also consider consulting with employee networks and diversity and inclusion committees to understand your employees’ concerns and be able to address them clearly in your communications.
The Victorian Public Sector Commission is currently researching and developing the best way to design and structure forms that ask for this personal information from employees in a way that is safe and inclusive.
Finally, it is important to move from communicating to demonstrating your organisation’s commitment to intersectionality. This means showing how you are meaningfully addressing inequalities revealed by your data collection. Actions that follow through on commitments to use data to improve equality can help to build accountability and trust (Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data 2021).
It is vital to ensure privacy when collecting sensitive demographic information. This can also contribute to building trust and making sure your employees feel safe to disclose details about their identities. The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) provides a range of advice and resources about the privacy obligations of organisations, including organisations that collect workplace gender audit data under the Act. As part of your workplace gender audit, and when collecting intersectional data, you may be required to collect:
- personal information (which may be used to identify an individual)
- sensitive information (which includes attribute information such as cultural background or sexual orientation)
- health information (which includes whether an employee identifies as a person with disability).
It is important to handle these types of information correctly. You can access further information about privacy and the Act more generally on OVIC’s website here.
An intersectional analysis can help to identify patterns of inequality experienced by people who share a combination of attributes. These trends may not be visible when you analyse data about each attribute in isolation. Look for trends in your workforce and employee experience data that may reveal how gender inequality combines with other forms of disadvantage and discrimination to create advantages and disadvantages for different groups (Bowleg 2008).
For example, a single demographic analysis might involve looking at representation of women in leadership positions compared to men. But this analysis may hide intersecting forms of inequality. Taking an intersectional approach could involve also looking at representation of different women in leadership positions. See Table 6.1 for some examples of how to expand from a gendered analysis to an intersectional analysis of your data.
Table 6.1. Some examples of gendered versus intersectional analyses of workforce data.
|Gendered analyses||Intersectional analyses|
|Representation of women in leadership positions compared to people of self-described gender and men.|
Representation of Aboriginal women in leadership positions, compared to:
|Pay differences between women, men and people of self-described gender.|
Pay differences between:
|Workplace sexual harassment complaints received by women, people of self-described gender and men.|
Workplace sexual harassment complaints received by culturally and racially marginalised (CARM) women, compared to:
When applying an intersectional lens, there are many possible combinations of data that can be analysed and you may not be able to look at every combination. Consider your organisation, the demographics of your employees and your community, the data that you hold, and your priorities for addressing inequality. It’s a good idea to consult with employees across your organisation to help identify which analyses should be prioritised (Hankivsky & Grace 2015).
Methods for applying an intersectional lens to quantitative data are still being developed (Ben 2018). As such, there is no single, correct way to undertake an intersectional analysis of your workforce and employee experience data. While such data is an important tool to shine a spotlight on inequality, it will not be able to provide the whole picture about inequality in your organisation. Try examining different combinations of attributes to see whether you can uncover patterns of inequality. You can use the sample data analysis and literature contained in this report for ideas about where to start and where patterns of inequality tend to be found.
To make sense of the results of your analyses, and to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how intersecting forms of inequality are experienced in your organisation (and what to do about this), it is very important to consult your employees (and perhaps other stakeholders) from diverse backgrounds. Consultation can also assist in understanding the greater level of diversity within high-level categories, such as ‘people with disability’. This should include consulting with people who have different combinations of the attributes listed in the Act (Aboriginality, age, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation), as well as other communities your employees represent. One way to do this is to draw on established groups, such as diversity and inclusion committees, external experts with real-life experience, and employee networks. You could also use interviews, focus groups or free-text surveys and draw on qualitative data that is external to your organisation, including the Commission’s funded research projects. Ideally, you will also use consultation with employees who experience intersecting forms of disadvantage and discrimination to co-design solutions to the problems uncovered by your data (Hankivsky & Cormier 2019).
Patterns of disadvantage in your data could mean that there are structural problems to address (Bowleg 2008). Structural inequalities within an organisation are inequalities that are built into the way your organisation operates. They could be embedded in systems, processes, or organisational cultures, and might be difficult to see and shift.
For example, your employee experience data might reveal that carers and people with disability report lower levels of belonging and lower confidence in the fairness of progression and promotion practices in your organisation that other groups. Your workforce data might also show low promotion and career development opportunities for carers and people with disabilities and low representation of these cohorts in leadership roles. Consultation with diverse employees could reveal that this may be related to the structure of a typical workday, where people are expected to work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. As a result of this structure, carers and people with disabilities might both face different barriers to progression. Addressing this structural problem – a rigid approach to work hours – might benefit both groups. You might do this by offering and promoting flexible work options in your organisation, and by lowering the requirement to justify non-standard work hours (an “all roles flex” approach e.g. Roderick 2018).
Regularly track and monitor data collected under the 7 workplace gender equality indicators to assess progress towards intersectional gender equality. Evaluate changes over time and identify areas where disparities or gaps persist for specific groups (Hankivsky & Cormier 2019). You might wish to use the resources provided by the Commission to support progress reporting as a starting point (review ‘Recommendation 1’ and ‘Commissioner’s recommendations for analysis’ in our progress reporting guidance).
Use information about changes in your data over time to evaluate your progress, review your data collection approach, improve strategies to drive intersectional gender equality in your organisation, and to measure the impact of those strategies. This may be done through formal processes, such as your organisation’s progress reporting obligations under the Act, as well as internal processes.