Aussies Lag on Workplace Gender Disclosure
17 June 2015 at 10:57 am
Australian companies publicly report less information on equal opportunities for women in the workplace than their UK and US counterparts, a new study reveals.
Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace: A Study of Corporate Disclosure published by the global body for professional accountants, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA),compares research findings on how a sample of the largest companies in the UK, Australia and the US have publicly reported on the issue.
La Trobe University’s Professor Carol Adams was a co-author of the study, along with Kate Grosser and Professor Jeremy Moon of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School in the UK.
“Although reporting by the leading companies is comparable in all three countries, collectively Australian companies are found to report less information on this issue than their UK and US counterparts,” the report said.
The report found that most existing performance reporting covered women’s employment patterns but was much more limited on workplace practices such as recruitment, retention, and career development and training.
Issues prioritised by civil society and government such as equal pay, litigation, sexual harassment and women’s representation in non-traditional jobs were reported on, but only by a minority of companies.
The study suggested the the global push for greater CSR activity has become a major influence on the reporting of workplace gender issues, but acknowledges that regulation obliging firms to report to government in the US and Australia has also played a role.
Although none of the countries studied had regulation to require public reporting, Australia and the US have different forms of reporting regulation on women’s workplace issues, both of which require regular reporting to government, while the UK adopts an entirely voluntary approach.
“The regulatory obligation to report to government in Australia has driven monitoring and internal reporting on gender equality in all companies where this was not already a management focus. These developments have facilitated progress and external reporting,” the report said.
“The requirement to report to government has enabled civil society organisations and shareholders to call upon companies to increase their transparency on this issue by publishing this data.
“Companies report much more information on gender equality in their CSR reports and on their CSR websites than in their annual reports. CSR reporting and benchmarking systems (eg the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Business in the Community (BiTC) CR Index, Opportunity Now (ON)) now encourage and inform reporting on gender issues.
“It appears that CSR has become a major influence on the reporting of workplace gender issues.
“We found a desire in both the UK and Australia for further reporting guidance, and in Australia this was considered necessary with regard to reporting to government, as well as reporting to the public.”
The report makes recommendations for improvement of reporting on workplace gender issues:
Companies should routinely report gender-disaggregated HR data. Reporting their key HR performance indicators with gender breakdowns will have the effect of immediately increasing transparency on gender equality.
Governments and/or business organisations should consider producing best practice guidance for corporate public reporting on workplace gender issues, ideally developed in collaboration with civil society organisations.
In Australia, the Equal Opportunities for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) should consider helping to improve corporate accountability to the public by commenting on or evaluating company CSR reports on gender equality in the workplace.
Ways need to be found to increase the capacity of civil society organisations to inform companies better about their expectations on gender reporting and thereby to enhance their impact as stakeholders.
Companies may need to anticipate some scepticism about those website reports, updates and newsflashes on gender workplace issues that are not clearly verifiable or audited.
CSR and sustainability reporting awards should extend to gender equality/diversity reporting.
“Business, government and NGOs internationally have acknowledged the importance of monitoring and managing equal opportunities and diversity effectively, as part of improved human capital management and equalities practice. They have also recognised the importance of accountability for such issues, including equal opportunities for women, and the importance of public reporting,” the report said.
Read the report here.