Issues Magazine

Good Intentions Don’t Count without Gender Data


Workplace Gender Equality Agency

Gender reporting data is critical to help employers lift female workforce participation rates, says Helen Conway of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

It is universally accepted that Australia needs to increase its productivity, and long-term fiscal challenges will place increasing pressure on the public purse.

Increasing female workforce participation is one of the key levers we can pull to grow our economy. Goldman Sachs JBWere have calculated that closing the gap between male and female employment rates could increase GDP by 13% while the Grattan Institute says that increasing female workforce participation by 6% could add $25 billion to the nation’s bottom line.

The present female workforce participation statistics reflect a market failure. The lack of women in senior positions, low participation rates for women aged 25–44, and the large proportion of women working part-time – double the OECD average – all point to an inefficient use of our female talent. Despite the World Economic Forum ranking Australia equal first for female educational attainment, we have slipped to 52nd spot in terms of female labour force participation.

To correct this imbalance and encourage more women into work, we need to help employers translate their good intentions around gender equality into actions that will increase the number of women in the workforce. Company-specific, standardised gender reporting data is a critical part of the picture.

From this year, reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency will be based on a range of gender equality indicators (including gender composition of the workforce, pay equity and flexible working arrangements) and will be focused on outcomes.

This “output” data will provide an unprecedented picture of gender performance across Australian workplaces, and the Agency will use the data to develop a customised, confidential benchmark report for each organisation that reports to us. This will be a powerful business intelligence tool. Employers will be able to compare their gender performance against their peers, identify areas for improvement, and track the effectiveness of their gender equality strategies over time.

It has been suggested that gender reporting will divert resource from the task of implementing initiatives to improve female workforce participation. On the contrary, the benchmark reports will enable employers to target their efforts where they are most needed so they aren’t wasting resources.

Importantly, there is strong support for this new framework. Of the 2522 employers surveyed by the Agency late last year, approximately nine out of ten were supportive of the new reporting requirements, and almost eight out of ten said benchmark reports would be valuable or very valuable.

It has also been suggested that data to be reported to the Agency duplicates existing data. This is incorrect. Unlike existing data, the Agency’s reporting data will give employers relevant organisation-specific information they need to create solutions that will drive change. Macro-level workforce indicators generated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics won’t cut it. While such data helps to paint a broad national picture of the gender equality “problem”, it is of little relevance to an individual employer and highly unlikely to compel change – something painfully obvious given the lack of progress to date.

Other data sources are incomplete, not suitably specific and not standardised, and hence not useful to individual organisations.

Non-public sector organisations with 100 or more employees are required to report to the Agency. Despite suggestions that organisations at the lower end of this scale will find reporting unduly burdensome, the Agency’s assessment informed by relevant feedback is that this is not the case. A report released by PwC indicates a readiness and willingness on the part of SMEs to report. In fact, it will likely be easier for smaller organisations than larger ones.

Gender reporting is not “red tape”. It is important, however, that employers receive a return on their reporting that is commensurate with the effort of reporting. This means achieving an appropriate balance in the matters to be reported and providing valuable data in return. This is what the benchmark reports are all about.

Make no mistake: if we fail to equip employers with the information they need to improve workplace gender equality we will limit our nation’s future growth. However, hopefully we will look back on this time as the watershed moment when Australia began to treat workplace gender equality as the economic imperative it is.