Advocates say WA government’s gender procurement policy is a missed opportunity
The WA Government’s new procurement policies targeting gender equality will achieve little unless the requirements on businesses are quickly ramped up, advocates say.
With WA facing the nation’s biggest gender pay and workforce participation gaps, the State Government last month announced a pilot program involving 15 departments to drive improved equality and understanding of business benefits of gender equality.
But all it requires of suppliers applying is that they agree that they report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency — which all private companies with more than 100 employees have had to do since 2012.
The Victorian government has implemented a much tougher scheme, requiring firms have audits and plans. Successful tenderers are required to complete a further audit specifically targeting the gender equity of each project, while the construction industry must also make commitments on hiring women as apprentices and trainees and meet female quotas for projects worth more than $20 million.
CEOs for Gender Equity executive officer Ashley Speers said the WA pilot was a lost opportunity.
“By limiting the procurement requirements to simply lodging the citation letter, the government is missing out on key information indicating how serious an organisation is about driving gender equity,” she said, adding the Victorian model sent a strong message and would be ideal to adopt.
“If the requirements were a bit more bold, they could be driving more change. I welcome any progress, but I just think it’s a missed opportunity to delve a bit deeper into the actual results and what’s being done by these organisations.”
Labour economist Conrad Liveris described the measures as “a wet lettuce policy”.
“It sends a signal but that doesn’t result in change necessarily,” he said. “It’s almost a discretionary side item rather than anything that sincerely matters.
“It may develop over time but it seems pretty basic to begin with, rather than anything that could meaningfully change the game. Asking them to adhere to requirements that already exist is an incredibly low bar.”
Engineering and construction firm Laing O’Rourke, which regularly undertakes government work, has increased women in senior site leadership roles in Australia from 11 per cent to 19 per cent in four years.
General manager of people Helen Fraser said targets had been a key driver of progress, along with honest and transparent reporting.
“Diversity is important, not just to advance our sector, but also to meet the pipeline of work on the horizon,” she said, adding the firm congratulated the WA Government on its new policy.
“Could the bar be set higher in Australia across the sector in support of gender equality? We believe so.”
Women’s interests minister Simone McGurk said the pilot was “just the first step” and hoped there would be broader reforms.
“Every jurisdiction is different and gathering data and understanding the make up of the organisations we are purchasing from is vital, so that we know what exactly needs to change to create equality for women,” she said.
“This pilot is just the beginning. The data we gather will inform what other mechanisms could be introduced to drive change.”
Ms McGurk said she hoped the program would “encourage suppliers to lift their game if they want to be a provider of choice”.
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