Break the glass ceiling or miss out on government deals

by Stephanie Zillman10 Apr 2012

If passed, a new Bill will mandate that any company that receives taxpayer-funded assistance or has a government contract on the books will be incentivised to ensure they promote equal opportunities for women.

The Bill states that any company that doesn’t promote women equally would “not be eligible to compete for contracts under the Commonwealth procurement framework and may not be eligible for Commonwealth grants”. The Federal Government Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill was introduced to parliament last month, and a Senate review committee has now released public submissions.

The proposed changes mean companies would be assigned targets to promote women to management positions and provide them with equal training and promotion opportunities. Currently no financial penalty is imposed on companies that do not actively promote female advancement, but they are “named and shamed” by the Federal Government.

Business SA has denounced the bill as “social Stalinist engineering”, and chief executive Peter Vaughan said the measures, which would force promotion and other targets to benefit female employees, would be unworkable. “Once again we have those who wish to social-engineer outcomes, then seek to enforce them by penalties rather than by reward,” he said. “When you look at Australia compared to anywhere in the world, the ability to utilise skills in the workforce regardless of any other agenda like gender, sexuality and ethnicity is front-and-centre because of the skills shortage.”  

What the new Bill proposes:

  • Changes the name of the Act to the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 to emphasise the focus on gender equality in the workplace
  • Expansion of the coverage of the Act to include men, as well as women, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities
  • For the reporting period commencing 1 April 2013, a relevant employer would have to prepare and lodge a public report containing information relating to gender equality indicators
  • Smaller organisations with fewer than 100 employees would not be required to report, but they would be able to access the agency’s advice, education and incentive activities
  • Organisations would be able to measure their performance against other similar organisations
  • Businesses would be able to complete and submit reports online using a secure web-portal
  • The gender equality indicators set out in the Act include reporting on equal remuneration for men and women
  • Equal remuneration is explicitly referred to in the objects of the Act. Organisations will be required to report on pay data, but salary data will be removed from the public reports
  • The new Bill will also allow for more transparency in reporting – it will be a requirement that public reports be signed by the chief executive officer and this will help ensure that management at the highest level engages in the issue of gender equality
  • A relevant employer must inform employees and shareholders that the report has been lodged and employees and employee organisations will then be provided with the opportunity to comment on the report
  • Consequences for non-compliance, without reasonable excuse, include naming the employer in a report to the Minister or naming the employer by other means
  • There are also possible consequences in relation to Commonwealth procurement, grants and financial assistance


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