Sexual equality: Get serious or face the consequences

by 08 Mar 2012

A new Bill has been tabled in the House of Representatives which aims to strengthen the compliance and enforcement powers of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), and if the Bill is passed non-compliant organisations could be publicly ‘named and shamed’ as well as face financial consequences by being ineligible to trade with the government or to receive grants or financial assistance.

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Amendment Bill 2012 (Cth) (Bill) comes at a time when businesses are starting to take gender equality seriously and be more proactive in knocking down barriers to women advancing in leadership. In the past year diversity has been a talking point in boardrooms and businesses nationally, and it is timely that the legislation giving effect to the changes to EOWA has been introduced to Parliament alongside International Women’s Day (8 March).

Currently, organisations with 100 or more employees are required to make themselves known to EOWA and, unless exempt, to submit annual reports. However, the effectiveness of this regime has historically been restricted by EOWA’s limited enforcement and compliance powers. It is estimated that up to a third of organisations that are required to report to EOWA have failed to identify themselves to EOWA. That the bill could be passed is a firm possibility, and employment lawyer Stephanie Nicol from Gadens advised large organisations to audit their compliance with the legislation.

Indeed the Bill changes the reporting obligations of organisations considerably. If the Bill is passed as it currently reads, reporting organisations will need to provide information on gender equality indicators, including:

  • the gender composition of the workforce and board
  • equal remuneration between women and men
  • the availability and utility of flexible working arrangements
  • evidence of consultation with employees on gender equality issues

Nicol said the Bill would raise gender equality issues to executive level because a new requirement would mean CEOs must sign off on the accuracy of reports. Additionally, the information provided in annual reports would also be used by the new agency to develop industry benchmarks.

While the Bill will not affect the 2011-12 reporting year, if it is passed it will have ramifications for the reporting year commencing on 1 April 2012. “It is imperative that organisations are aware of their obligations,” Nicol said.


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