In an attempt to reduce the gender imbalance in Melbourne University’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, the University is now advertising three permanent positions exclusively for female applicants only.
This raises some interesting points of discussion about discrimination laws in Australia. There are a number of laws in Australia applicable to discrimination in employment on the basis of gender including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) and the Anti Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). Generally speaking this legislation renders it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person when determining who should be offered employment on the basis of a protected attribute, such as gender.
However, anti discrimination laws also allow for “positive discrimination” and permits measures to be introduced in pursuit of promoting or creating substantive equality for members of a group with a particular attribute.
In the University’s case, the decision to exclusively open the applications purely for female applicants is with the intention to promote change and reduce the gender imbalance in the School of Mathematics and Statistics. The University is aware that females are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and by advertising for female applicants it hopes to address the imbalance. Currently, only about a quarter of all mathematics academics in Australia are female.
These measures are referred to generally as “special measures” and in some jurisdictions require an application to use the special measures to be approved. To have an application approved, the person seeking to introduce the measures must be able to be prove that it is for the purposes of achieving equality. The actions also need to be justified to show that members of the group (i.e. female academics in this example) have a particular need for advancement or assistance.
In Victoria, employers do not need to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for approval of “special measures”. However, NSW employers seeking to implement “special measures” need to apply to the Anti Discrimination Board to get an approval prior to advertising for a position.
Employers are also reminded that the deadline for reporting to Workplace Gender Equality Agency is fast approaching (31 May 2016).
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