Government senators recognise that workplace gender segregation has
significant economic implications for Australia's employment growth and prosperity
in an increasingly competitive global economy, and that harnessing women's
participation in the workforce is crucial to addressing this issue.
The committee heard evidence that Australia and Australian businesses
would reap considerable economic advantages by closing the gap between male and
female employment and productivity, with the potential to boost Australia's GDP
by between 11 per cent and more than 20 per cent.
The government has a proven record of supporting women and gender
equality, and continues to demonstrate its strong commitment to supporting
Australian women to ensure that they are respected, represented, have a strong
voice and are financially and economically secure and safe from violence.
The committee has heard from expert witnesses that workplace gender
segregation is a complex, multi-levelled and multi-faceted issue. Government
senators believe that the solution demands a nuanced and multi-faceted response
that identifies policy measures designed to achieve the most effective outcomes
in each portfolio area.
Government senators are disappointed that the majority report does not fully
acknowledge the range of measures already in place, nor the progress that is
being made to achieve lasting changes in Australian workplaces. Some of these
initiatives are government-led or being undertaken in collaboration with
industry. Others are industry-led and achieving significant results in
addressing gender segregation in individual industries and workplaces.
The Australian Industry Group, for example, presented evidence to the
committee about how it has been working with employers and educators to address
the low intake of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
(STEM) fields, including a recent collaboration with the Office of the Chief
Scientist to produce the STEM Programme Index 2016 as a tool for
Appendix 3 contains a description of specific industry-led initiatives that
were brought to the committee's attention during the inquiry.
Government senators also point to the Australian Public Service
Commission's strategy, Balancing the Future: The Australian Public Service
Gender Equality Strategy 2016-19, as an outstanding example of an
initiative that seeks to bring about longer-term cultural change in the APS
through leadership, flexibility and innovation rather than prescriptive
The committee has heard a considerable amount of evidence about the
nature of gender segregation in Australian industries and occupations, as well
as the range of strategies and measures that have been adopted in both the
public and private sectors.
This evidence clearly demonstrates that, not only is there a heightened
awareness across government and industry of the causes of workplace gender
segregation in Australia, but also a concerted effort underway to address these
factors and ensure that women and men are able to participate equally in the
workforce. Specific policy measures that have already been identified by
government and are being implemented are discussed in more detail below.
Government senators are concerned that the legislative and policy
measures proposed in the majority report potentially duplicate or weaken existing
initiatives underway in the public and private sectors. Many of the larger
employers in the private sector, for example, have already implemented a range
of effective recruitment practices and workplace strategies to directly tackle
key drivers of gender segregation such as unconscious bias, while smaller
businesses are devising and implementing practices that are increasing gender
diversity in their workplaces.
Increasing women's workforce participation
Government senators are disappointed that the majority report does not
recognise the government's efforts in meeting the G20 goal of increasing
women's labour force participation by 25 per cent by 2025. Australia was
instrumental in having this goal accepted by G20 nations in 2014, and the
government is now well-advanced in developing a cross-portfolio strategy to
ensure that Australia will meet its goal.
Government senators also note that the government has recently invested
around $37 billion on child care support over the next four years, including
$2.5 billion to support the implementation of the Jobs for Families
Child Care Package. These reforms are designed to make the Australian child
care system more affordable, flexible and accessible for Australian families in
order to assist working parents get back to work sooner.
The Jobs for Families Child Care Package, for example, will give
around one million Australian families relief from out-of-pocket child care
cost pressures and provide more children with the opportunity to benefit from
early education. The package of measures aims to provide support for Australian
parents who want to work or work more. In particular, the reforms will assist
those who work the most and earn the least by making the system more
affordable, accessible and flexible.
Meeting the science and technology challenge
Government senators agree that engaging more women in STEM professions
is essential if Australia is to maximise its economic opportunities and drive
innovation to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving and increasingly
competitive global economy.
Government senators support the government's substantial commitment to
overcoming the barriers that girls and women face in entering STEM fields as
part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).
In 2015, the government committed $13 million to encourage women to
choose and stay in STEM fields, start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses.
Initiatives include the Science in Australia Gender Equality pilot led by the
Australian Academy of Science and the Academy of Technological Sciences and
Engineering; the Male Champions of Change project to encourage greater gender
equity in STEM-based and entrepreneurial industries; and partnering with the
private sector on initiatives that celebrate female STEM role models and foster
an ongoing interest in STEM careers among girls and women.
The Australian Government's Inspiring all Australians in Digital
Literacy and STEM represents a further commitment of $64.6 million for
initiatives to improve the teaching and learning of STEM in schools and
childcare centres. It is focusing on increasing the engagement of
underrepresented groups including girls by upskilling teachers and students,
facilitating industry partnerships, and providing Digital Literacy School
In addition, the Australian Department of Education and Training
provided evidence to the committee about a range of school-based initiatives,
such as the National STEM Partnerships program (Scientists and Mathematicians
in Schools) involving mentoring and partnerships with teachers and classes to
bring real-world learning into the classroom; ICT Summer Schools initiative for
Years 9 and 10 students, commenced in January 2017; and Curious Minds, a
hands-on extension and mentoring program for Years 8 to 10 to ignite girls'
passion for STEM subjects.
Women in leadership
Government senators believe that considerable progress has been made in
achieving vertical gender segregation, with targets for gender equality on
boards and in senior management being met across both public and private
The 'BoardLinks Champions' database, for example, has been a highly
effective tool for connecting leading women in Australian industries with
opportunities to be considered for Australian Government board positions. The
personal endorsement of a BoardLinks Champion, Australian Government Minister,
or Department Secretary ensures BoardLinks candidates are of the highest
Government senators note that the government is on track to achieving
its gender diversity target across all Australian Government boards to 50 per
cent representation with a minimum of 40 per cent on each board.
Company boards play a pivotal role in creating an inclusive
organisational culture and ensuring gender balance within their organisations,
and Government senators note that the number of women on ASX200 boards has more
than doubled over the last five years, from 8.3 per cent in January 2010 to
21.9 per cent in January 2016.
Response to majority report recommendations
Government senators have concerns with some of the recommendations contained
in the majority report, and these are outlined below:
National policy framework for
women's workforce equity
Government senators do not support recommendation 1. Government senators
believe that the existing policy framework provides a strong and effective response
to the range of policy issues associated with workplace gender segregation. They
do not consider that it is necessary to establish another policy framework, and
are concerned that it will lead to duplication of existing efforts, competition
for existing resources, and potential confusion over policy objectives.
The existing framework includes measures to address gender pay equity,
gender segregation and flexible work provisions. In 2013, the government made
the decision to reinstate the Office for Women in the Department of the Prime
Minister and Cabinet, with the express intention to connect gender policy
across the whole of government, and to demonstrate its commitment to
strengthening gender analysis, advice and mainstreaming across all portfolios.
The Office for Women's priorities focus on strengthening women's workforce
participation and supporting more women into leadership positions.
Other measures in the existing framework include the Fair Work
Commission's (FWC's) role in providing access to pay equity research, and the
Fair Work Ombudsman's best practice guide on achieving gender pay equity.
As noted above the government is also demonstrating, through a wide range
of programs, that it is committed to promoting women's workforce participation
by promoting flexible work provisions and access to affordable early childhood
education and care.
The committee also heard evidence from industry groups that demonstrate their
support for policies that encourage flexible working arrangements and policies
and procedures which enable particular jobs to be performed on a flexible basis
by both men and women.
Government senators see merit in the idea of an appropriate government
agency maintaining a list of relevant measures that have been successfully
adopted in other jurisdictions, in order to give Australian policymakers and
businesses access to international best practice initiatives that may be
applicable in the Australian context.
Reforms to Fair Work Act 2009
Government senators do not support recommendations 2 and 3 calling for amendments
to the Fair Work Act 2009 to require the FWC to properly consider equal
remuneration as an explicit objective of the Act and a positive duty when
making or varying an award, and to consult with stakeholders to achieve these
Australia's legislative framework already provides employees with a
suite of protections against gender discrimination in the workplace. Government
senators consider that the current legislative provisions relating to equal
remuneration and work value matters are adequate and do not see the need for an
equal remuneration principle.
Government senators are concerned that the committee's recommendations
for changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 are not only unnecessary, but they
are likely to impose additional constraints and burdens on employers,
particularly larger employers who already have effective strategies and
initiatives in place to promote gender-neutral employment practices and greater
diversity in their workplaces.
Reforms to Fair Work Commission
As noted above, government senators consider that the existing
protections against gender discrimination in the workplace are adequate, and do
not support recommendation 4 seeking to reinstate the Pay Equity Unit within
The FWC is an independent body which is equipped with the expertise and
authority to regulate and enforce provisions regarding minimum wages and
The FWC established the Pay Equity Unit in 2013 following a
recommendation by House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment and
Workplace Relations in 2009.
Its role was to undertake pay equity related research and provide information
to inform matters relating to pay equity under the Fair Work Act 2009.
The Unit completed its research program in 2014 ̶
15 and produced several reports which are available on the FWC's website.
Career exploration and guidance
The committee heard evidence about the need for gender-sensitive career
guidance for secondary school girls, aimed at promoting STEM and other non-traditional
careers, building on elements of successful programs from Australia and around
Government senators support, in principle, recommendation 5 proposing
that the Department of Education and Training update the National Career
Development Strategy and the Australian Blueprint for Career Development to
ensure that they include provision for gender sensitive career guidance and
counselling. Government senators note that the committee received no specific
evidence on the need to update the Strategy and the Blueprint, and current
initiatives in this area need to be taken into account.
Government senators support, in principle, recommendation 6 proposing
that the Department of Education and Training undertake a national evaluation
of all programs and initiatives aimed at increasing the number of girls
undertaking STEM courses in order to provide benchmark data and best practice
guidelines. However, government senators consider that the necessity for such a
review should first be established, given the government's significant
commitment and current initiatives already underway in this area, as outlined
Gender data reporting
Gender data reporting is an essential source of information about
employment characteristics of individual workplaces in Australia. As the
committee heard during the inquiry, Australia is already a world leader in
gender data reporting and government datasets, particularly those maintained by
the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Workplace Gender Equality Unit.
These datasets provide a rich source of gender-related data that is
regularly published in summary form and made available to expert analysts to
ensure that the government has access to policy advice on gender segregation
and the gender pay gap across portfolios.
Given the robust and detailed nature of the current system of gender
data reporting, government senators are cautious about imposing additional
reporting requirements that will impose a further burden on employers who are
already meeting their obligations to provide detailed gender data for
Government senators do not support recommendation 7 which proposes a
review of the recent United Kingdom initiative on Gender Pay Gap Reporting,
recommendation 8 which proposes a review of the job classifications used by the
ABS with the intention of improving the granularity and portability of datasets,
or recommendation 9 which proposes that the ABS Time Use study recommence on a
Senator James Paterson Senator
Deputy Chair Senator
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page