Gender equality drive should target SMEs: female business chamber

The new business chamber for women has called for small businesses to be included in a new government regime that requires companies with more than 100 workers to report on gender equality outcomes.


In a bid to boost workplace gender equality, the Federal Government says large businesses will now face spot checks and mandatory reporting on the numbers of women they employ and their positions.


While the rules have won the support of the Australian Centre for Leadership of Women, the newly-formed Australian Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry says all businesses should be examined in this manner, regardless of their size.


“The majority of small to medium enterprises employee between five and 50 staff – they’re being missed out and so we will have no data on what’s going on in that area,” AWCCI chief executive Yolanda Vega says.


“So we can’t praise their success and learn from them. We’re putting all this energy into getting more women on boards but most women-owned companies don’t have boards – a lot of women are self-employed in SMEs.”


Vega says small businesses should be subjected to the same inspections as their larger counterparts, arguing they have nothing to fear about the prospect.


“There is nothing extra to do. The reality is that if you’re a small business and employ five people, you know how many are female and how many are male,” she says.


“It wouldn’t take longer than a few minutes [for a small business to record that information] because it’s already known.”


“You don’t need to start a new database or employ a new manager… It’s basic housekeeping. I’m sure small businesses already comply [with existing legislation] but we don’t know because we don’t have the statistics.”


According to Kate Ellis, Minster for the Status of Women, the new rules will help to achieve “tangible” results in workplace equality, promising regular inspections to ensure businesses are truthful in their reports.


“We want to know what is happening in all businesses with more than 100 employees – no exceptions”, Ellis said in a statement.


“Under these reforms… we will enshrine in legislation that the Government only does business with companies who comply.”


An additional $11.2 million will be given to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to collect more information on women’s working conditions, and provide assistance for firms seen to be lagging behind in their employment of women.


Any information that companies provide to the Government will have to be approved by employee representatives or chief executives.


Susan Heron, Victorian chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management, says small businesses are already leading the way in this area and deserve to give themselves a “pat on the pack”.


“The point is, though, that small businesses should seek to emulate [these practices]. As they grow and as the legislation becomes more embedded, it will become something that needs to be part of their work culture,” she says.


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