Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector (CGEPS) / Victoria Dixon / Senior Policy and Programs Advisor  / 
Baseline Gender Report

story / Guest Story / December 12, 2022

It turns out gender inequality is prevalent everywhere, even in the public sector. Recently, the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector (CGEPS) released its baseline report – the result of collecting and analysing gender data from 300 organisations (listed here) or 450,000 people or 12% of the Victorian labour force. Monkeys! That’s a lot of data!

In an unlikely match of two women, Tory Dixon, who came across to CGEPS from the construction industry, sits down with her boss, Dr Niki Vincent, the Commissioner, i.e., the Grand Poohbah of gender equality (who also ran a housing construction business in a previous life). Together they explore this mammoth piece of work that CGEPS has released. They also discuss some of their favourite feminist authors and how the private sector, specifically construction, could learn a thing or two from the work that CGEPS is doing in the public sector.


How the hell did we mandate such a progressive task? Victoria is the first and only jurisdiction in Australia to have enshrined public sector gender equality laws. The Gender Equality Act 2020 is a bold move in committing to systemic and structural workplace reform. The workplace gender audit was the first cab off the rank for organisations who must report under the Act. In short, the 300 organisations under the Act are mandated to publish their gender data, gender equality plans and progress reports for everyone to see – and they’ll have to keep doing that every two years.

The results of the baseline report showed us that bias, discrimination, and structural inequality are alive and well in 2022, and that women still bear much of the unpaid family caring responsibilities – even when they are in the paid workforce. It also showed that the gender pay gap is still very real (for all those conspiracy theorists). Many women will not be surprised that the baseline report results confirmed the following:

  • Sexual harassment is gendered and underreporting of incidents is a key concern.
  • A lack of uptake of flexible working options by men embeds stereotypical gender roles at work and home.
  • The overall gender pay gap was 15.6% – meaning the average man took home about $19k more than the average woman in the 2020-21 financial year.
  • 11 out of 12 industry groups had pay gaps in favour of men (the only exception being the arts industry)

Despite all the above, one very curious thing was that 43% of men surveyed believed they had experienced gender discrimination in being denied opportunities for promotion and career development. This compared to 31% only of women. What’s going on? Well, research has found that some men think strategies to increase the representation of women is a form of gender discrimination against them – even though in our data and in other research there is no evidence of any actual systemic discrimination against men – and plenty of evidence that it remains the other way around!

Some other things that may come as a surprise from the baseline report include:

  • Even in a sector in which 66% of employees are women, and in which there has been a focus on promoting gender equality for some time, there is still a 20% gap in the representation of women in leadership positions. Men, who are only 34% of employees, hold 66% of the leadership positions.
  • Women were also under-represented within career development training opportunities, opportunities to act in more senior roles, and promotions – while men got way more than their fair share (ironically, almost half of the men who said they’d experienced discrimination reported they’d been denied opportunities for promotion).
  • Every single occupation (even those that are traditionally majority-women, such as clerical and administration and community and personal service workers) had pay gaps in favour of men.
  • The pay gap in favour of men widens with age from 25 years until 65+ – so the older a woman gets, the greater the pay gap gets, right up to retirement age (and even after that, it’s still huge)!

On a more hopeful note, The Victorian Government set a target in 2015 for 50% of all new appointments to government boards to be women. In just 5 years, the proportion of women on these boards had increased from 39% to 55%. Boards have a powerful role in strategic, financial and risk oversight and decision-making, so equal representation is critical to ensuring decisions made at this level are fair and equal for the workforce and the community more broadly.

Gender inequality has reigned for far too long. It’s time to recognise that this isn’t serving anyone. We’d all like to think everyone has an equal chance at getting the job they want – we believe in a fair go. But the barriers to women in the workforce start long before they begin applying for a job. They start with those stories we are told from childhood about gender roles. These gender stereotypes and norms have a big influence on the way boys and girls see themselves and their futures – how they think about who fulfils certain jobs and who takes on caring responsibilities.

Adding to the challenges for women is the fact that the world of paid work was designed by men, for men. If it’s ever going to be equal, we need to break the bias that is baked into the walls of industries and workplaces – get rid of the ‘gender asbestos’ as former federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick described it.

But this is no easy gig. At CGEPS, one of our favourite books is ‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez (or CCP as we call her for short). This book is a masterpiece in exposing data bias. It’s chock-full of examples that show how pretty much the whole world has been designed for men by default. CCP covers everything from:

  • Car safety testing – with crash test dummies based on the average man – meaning that in accident a woman is 47% more likely to be seriously injured, 3 times more vulnerable to whiplash, and 17% more likely to die
  • PPE – where 71% of women who need to use it in one industry said it didn’t fit them because ‘one size fits all’ actually means ‘one-size-fits all men’
  • Medicine – where medications are tested on a ‘standard human’ (i.e., a male body). This is problematic for women in so many ways. One example is a medication used to stop a heart attack which can trigger a heart attack during a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • Public toilet design – where women take on average 2.4 times longer than men to use the toilet because of periods, pregnancy, children, smaller bladder capacity etc., yet designers and architects still think it’s fair to allocate the same floor space women’s and men’s bathrooms – hence those loooong women’s toilet queues!)
  • Construction (where the size of bricks, tools and cement bags are designed to fit the handspan and strength of a man – all things that can be redesigned, if we have the will, to allow women to participate more equally in the industry (mind you, Tory notes that we’d also need to fix the misogyny, crazy hours, lack of flexibility, and sexual harassment).

In quoting CCP she states “…women have been told all their lives at they are a norm violation, all because of the gender data gap. Many of us have brought into the myth that women are just a bit rubbish, whilst this may be because of media, it’s also because we are under-represented, everywhere.” Gender constructs permeate all aspects of our lives, and the standards held for men are not the same as those held for women. Mary Ann Sieghart puts it perfectly in ’The Authority Gap’ (another CGEPS favourite); ‘A man can be called assertive if he launches World War three. A woman can be called assertive if she puts you on hold.’

The public sector’s ‘dirty laundry’ has been hung out for all to see (you can access any one of the 300 organisations’ gender data here to see what’s happening in state and local government and in universities). Niki hits the nail on the head stating that ‘…without this level of public transparency we won’t get the drive for change in many organisations.’ And maybe this is the birthing place for resolving the issues.

From Tory’s experience in the construction industry, private sector organisations often keep their cards very close to their chest – even to the point where people within an organisation aren’t aware of the levels of inequality going on. Only a few weeks ago a senior male manager from a large construction company told her that the gender pay gap was a myth. Baffling. While private sector organisations with over 100 employees must legally report to the federal Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) every year, each individual organisation’s data is not made public by WGEA, and the companies don’t have to take any action to address their gender inequality issues. Even so, every year many construction companies remain on the WGEA blacklist for failing to report their data.

What is so impressive about Victoria’s Gender Equality Act is that organisations covered by the legislation must put a well-resourced plan in place to deal with their gender issues. They must also make ‘reasonable and material progress’ from their baseline data and publicly report this progress every two years. If they don’t do this then there are real consequences (ultimately, being taken to the Vic Civil and Administrative Tribunal). Put simply this is all about accountability.

Organisations must also undertake Gender Impact Assessments on all new policies, programs and services that impact the public and report on these every two years. This might include providing change tables in male public toilets or ensuring there is bright lighting in public spaces that women use. Imagine if every time a new public project was created in a private sector organisation, a gender lens had to be applied and any gender inequality addressed otherwise it wasn’t approved?! That’s ground-breaking! Say what you will about the public sector, but it sure takes guts to be transparent and accountable in front of the entire public.

So, what does all of this have to do with construction? Well, we know that construction is a bastion of gender inequality. Tory imagines what it would be like to rebuild the industry from the foundations up, because it sure seems easier than turning the Titanic that is construction. Fantasies aside, it’s essential for the industry’s survival to bring itself into the 21st century.

CGEPS is also a part of the implementation team working on the Building Equality Policy (BEP) which is a policy mandated for all government construction projects over the value of $20 million. The BEP focuses on mandating women targets for management, trade, non-trade, and apprentice roles. It also aligns with the Gender Equality Act in aiming to collect gender data and requiring organisations and project teams to write Gender Equality Action Plans to improve gender equality within head offices and on site. This data will certainly not be made public (not yet anyway) but it’s a start in helping organisations and on-site projects to see where their gender gaps are occurring – albeit it may be obvious.

So where does this leave us? In short, the public sector is doing leading work in the space of gender equality. The Gender Equality Act is making data on inequality transparent and ensuring that every organisation is publicly accountable for making positive change. It’s unlocking many doors and we hope to see women walking through them. Stay tuned as CGEPS tracks the change these organisations are making, as well as how their policies, programs and services change once they have a gender lens put over them. Organisations can now be held to account for their progress by employees, unions, the media, and the broader community – as such, this will be a case study in how legislation with transparency and ‘teeth’ can turn gender equality from a ‘nice to have’ into a ‘must have’. And it’s about time!


It’s been a pleasure to bring you this piece by Tory Dixon on Gazella this week and we look forward to hearing from Tory in the future! J & D xx

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