‘Gender’ replaces ‘women’ at workplace equality body as reform bill passed

The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency will soon undergo a significant brand change, including the removal of the word 'women' from its name, following the passage of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 in the Senate overnight.

The changes will see EOWA rebadged as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency – reflecting a shift from being a body promoting equal opportunity for women to one that promotes gender equality – and give the organisation a stronger mandate to collect and analyse data on gender equality across Australian workplaces.

Non-public sector organisations with more than 100 employees will be required to report on gender equality outcomes under the new legislation, data the new WGEA expects to access in order to produce industry benchmarks as well as best practice standards for organisations to establish voluntary targets and measure their own progress against. Organisations will have until 2014 to ensure their new reporting arrangements are operational.

"There are a lot of organisations that want to go on this [gender equality] journey, but they just don't know how to do it," EOWA director Helen Conway told Women's Agenda this morning. "We will do everything we can to help businesses work through the transition process, we're required to give advice and support which we will happily do."

Conway said the changes reflect a modern move to eliminate discrimination in relation to family and caring responsibilities – something both men and women experience. "It's all about saying that it doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman, you shouldn't be disadvantaged in the workplace because of your gender," she said.

However, Conway added that the agency will still recognise that women have a particular disadvantaged position in the workplace.

Coaltion spokesperson for the Status of Women, Michaelia Cash, voted against the bill, declaring the changes would mean more red tape for businesses, and imposing additional uncertainty and obligations on employers. She has previously told Women's Agenda the reforms are "vague" and fall "short of the mark".

Conway confirmed she's spoken with Senator Cash about her concerns.

High-profile CEOs who have come out in support of the legislation include ASX managing director Elmer Funke Kupper and ExxonMobil chairman John Dashwood.

Telstra CEO David Thodey said the higher expectations and accountability required from the reformed agency would aid organisations like his in achieving gender equality outcomes.

Alcoa chairman Alan Cransberg said the changes would assist it "creating a workplace which we can be truly proud of and representative of our society".

Company Directors chief John Colvin, Chief Executive Women president Belinda Hutchinson, Diversity Council of Australia CEO Nareen Young and UN Women executive director Julie McKay have also all issued statements in support of the changes.

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