Action area: Workplace diversity and flexibility

The Government is committed to making flexible work a normal part of the workplace, for both men and women.

Workplace flexibility allows women and men more choice and opportunity in determining how they blend work and family and enables parents to work or work more.

Men who work flexibly are able to be more active and engaged fathers, take a greater share in unpaid work and create opportunities for women to increase their paid work. Although many Australian men want to work flexibly, they are almost twice as likely as women to have their request for flexible work declined.[1]

Whether an industry or occupation is seen to be flexible and have a family friendly culture is a driving factor for many women when making decisions about paid work, especially those returning to paid work after caring for children. This flexibility is needed, in part, because women do more unpaid work than men. Women spend 64 per cent of their average weekly working time on unpaid care work compared to 36 per cent for men[2]. We can see how this breakdown might affect women’s decisions about work, for example, working part time at higher rates than men or not working until their children are of school age.

The majority of industries with a large share of women also have the highest share of part-time employment and conversely for men, the majority of industries with a large share of men also have the lowest share of part-time employment. [3] Flexibility should be encouraged and normalised for both men and women in all occupations and industries.

The Government is focused on promoting the economic and financial benefit to business from increased women’s participation. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.[4] Companies with women board members outperformed others by 8.7 per cent over five years.[5]

Source: Australian Institute of Company Directors Gender Diversity Progress Report for September–November 2016.

25% of ASX 200 board members are women in 2016; compared with 8% in 2009.

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) helps to improve gender equality in Australian workplaces, including by promoting flexible working and the need for more women in leadership positions, through advice and practical tools to help employers improve their gender performance.

WGEA administers the annual workplace gender reporting requirements for larger private sector entities and universities. This reporting includes gender equality indicators in Australian workplaces such as the availability and utility of employment terms, conditions and practices relating to flexible working arrangements for employees and to working arrangements supporting employees with family or caring responsibilities and the  availability of flexible working provisions for employees, and provision of employer funded paid parental leave.

Where are we?

Many Australian businesses have already taken substantive steps to reduce barriers to women’s participation and increase the number of female employees, including into non-traditional roles in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Government’s Women’s Leadership and Development Strategy provides funding support to organisations to improve gender equality and support women’s economic empowerment, safety and leadership. This is achieved by promoting and supporting greater representation of Australian women in leadership and decision making roles, in particular in non-traditional fields of work.

The Fair Work Ombudsman, the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Centre for Workplace Leadership and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency all provide information and tools for employers and employees to promote flexible working arrangements. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Supporting Working Parents website provides information on rights and obligations in the workplace on pregnancy, parental leave and return to work.

Source: Australia’s gender equality scorecard: Key findings from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2015-16 reporting data, 2014- 2016.

Flexibility is on the rise. 63% of employers have a flexible working policy, compared with 57% in 2014 and 60 per cent in 2015. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s dataset is based on 4,697 reports submitted on behalf of 12,433 employers, accounting for 40% of employees in Australia.

Key Actions 2017-18

  • Expand the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s framework for recognising businesses who are leading in gender equality, including flexibility. This includes extending the Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation by opening the citation to public sector organisations and continuing to drive gender equality outcomes. In addition, developing an awards program to recognise innovative gender equality initiatives among a broader pool of employers, including small and medium enterprises.
  • Introduce voluntary reporting for public sector employers on the six gender equality indicators outlined in the Workplace Gender Equality Act.
  • Implement and progress the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy to ensure the Public Service remains a role model for gender equality and flexibility in the workforce.
  • Promote the economic and business benefits of flexible work for small and medium enterprises, with a strong focus on supporting working mothers, as well as challenging people’s expectations about the work men and women do.
  • Continue to provide funding through the Women’s Leadership and Development Strategy  to develop women’s leadership, economic security and women’s equal place in society, including:
    • $250,000 to the Master Builders Association to the Advancing Women in Building and Construction Pilot to encourage more women to enter into and lead successful careers in the overwhelmingly male-dominated sector.
    • $490,000 to the Australian Mines and Metals Association to deliver the Australian Women in Resources Alliance e-Mentoring Program that offers mentoring opportunities to women in the heavily male-dominated resource industry.
  • Reduce gender inequality in non-traditional fields such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and entrepreneurship through the Expanding Opportunities for Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship initiative (see Jobs of the Future action area).
  • Work towards the Australian Government’s target for 50 per cent women on Government boards overall, and 40 per cent women on each individual board.
  • Expand the BoardLinks Program – a key tool for achieving the gender diversity on boards target, which features a database of talented women seeking appointment to a Government board.
  • Develop training on the differential impacts of gender in mainstream policy development.
  1. Bain & Company Inc (2015) The Power of Flexibility: A Key Enabler to Boost Gender Parity and Employee Engagement [accessed 18 April 2017]
  2. WGEA, Unpaid care work and the labour market insight paper,
  3. ABS (November 2016) Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, cat. no. 6291.0.55.003, four quarter average of original data
  4. Diversity Matters (2014) McKinsey & Company, [accessed 18  April  2017]
  5. Reibey Institute (2011) ASX500 Women Leaders: Research Note, Reibey Institute. [accessed 18 April 2017]