Workplace Gender Equality Reporting: Article by Jennifer Westacott and Elizabeth Broderick

This opinion article by Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia and Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, was published in The Australian Financial Review on 19 March 2014 under the title ‘Gender Reporting Not a Yes or No Issue’.

The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Business Council of Australia have been working together for some time to find ways to improve and streamline gender reporting, because this is not a yes or no debate.

We all recognise that increasing gender diversity and the participation of women in the workforce generates significant benefits, for women, for business and for Australia’s economy. That is why our organisations will continue with joint efforts to see improved approaches to data collection and reporting.

We are also rightly concerned that women’s success in education is not translating into achievement in paid work. We used to think that if we educated women and provided opportunity that this would be enough. We now know that growing organisations in which both men and women can thrive will take more than education. At the heart of this change is putting the right strategies in place in business – strategies built on strong gender metrics and reporting.

But it is also true that in an increasingly regulated world, there is room to reduce the impost on businesses so that the exercise of data collection and reporting is not too onerous. These regulatory savings must not be delivered at the expense of the quality of the data, but rather by streamlining data collection and reporting.

Data collection and reporting should not be unnecessarily complex and should not duplicate information collected elsewhere. It should be designed to help improve outcomes.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is rigorous, robust data collection and analysis against key strategic metrics that drives change. Through analysing the data, organisations are able to identify where the gaps are, and then adjust and target their measures. They do this every day in relation to revenue and costs.

The BCA’s research report, Increasing the Number of Women in Senior Executive Positions, identified the importance of improving gender diversity outcomes, both in terms of fairness and equity and also in terms of improved business performance.

It highlighted that progress on gender diversity is best enabled by companies having company-specific, well-designed, measured and monitored gender diversity strategies, driven by the board, chief executive and senior management team.

At an organisational level, the occupational data collected by business in Australia will be critical to understanding how – and if – gender equality policies are working in practice. Gender reporting is a powerful intelligence tool that assists organisations to establish gender equality measures and generate more productive and higher functioning businesses.

No one should doubt that both individual companies and the nation benefit in having the government collect national data on broad trends in gender diversity. Without national data, policymakers cannot design evidence-based responses and find policy solutions.

Business has argued that it is compelled to supply data to government agencies, but receives nothing in return. This is about to change. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency will soon provide confidential customised benchmark reports to each reporting organisation, enabling comparison with other businesses in their sector and of a similar size. This should help organisations identify where they are doing well and where they must improve. Coupled with targeted advice from the agency, organisations will have the tools necessary to improve over time.

We also need to ensure companies can establish practical and innovative strategies to achieve gender equality in workplaces. This will deliver superior results for companies, ensuring we harness the talent and skills of both women and men.

Submission to the Department of Employment on the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012