Kilmore District Health interim director of people and culture Michelle Forrester with commissioner for gender equality in the public sector Niki Vincent who discussed gender inequality and gender equality plans. ​

By Jordyn Grubisic

Kilmore District Health, KDH, recently hosted the commissioner for gender equality in the public sector Niki Vincent to discuss gender inequality.

Dr Vincent is the first commissioner of her kind in Australia following the position’s establishment with the Gender Equality Act 2020.

She said the legislation was ‘groundbreaking’.

“What strikes me when I’m doing these trips is how positive and powerful women, and many men as well, are having this sense of ‘finally we have legislation that’s going to actually make change,” she said.

“I think the legislation has the power to drive it. It’s only in one area but it’s still going to make a big difference in a big area of our lives.”

Dr Vincent is visiting all organisations reporting to her under the legislation with more than 300 in regional areas.

“All organisations reporting to me have taken a workplace order, so they understand what their own gender equality or inequality looks like in their organisations, and they’ve developed plans to address any inequality,” Dr Vincent said.

“I’m here to find out how they’re managing all of that, how organisations are implementing their plans and to talk about gender equality in general.

“I find when I come on these visits a lot of people just want to talk about their own experiences of gender inequality, particularly in hospitals where it’s a mainly women workforce, and struggles they’ve had juggling career and family, the challenges of unconscious bias in the workplace, and so forth.”

KDH’s Gender Equality Action Plan 2021-25 used data compiled from a survey and workplace audit data from 2021 to form strategies.

Seventy-six per cent of responders were women, 10 per cent men, one per cent non-binary and 14 per cent preferred not to say.

One issue found was men earned 2.6 per cent more than women, however KDH interim director of people and culture Michelle Forrester said the pay gap was a sector issue.

“It’s probably telling that we have a 33 per cent pay gap in public service between male and females,” she said.

“We can’t solve that one ourselves but it’s something we need to work on within the sector.”

Dr Vincent said discussions about gender equality often raised the question ‘what about men’.

“We’re not saying men aren’t important. What we’re saying is that men, often without them even realising, have a lot of privilege they may not even recognise,” she said.

“When we talk about having targets and quotas for women, you hear ‘this will throw merit out the door’. Well a lot of men didn’t get their jobs on merit so only mediocre men need to worry about that. Meritorious men will still have positions.

“What we’re saying is we want to have men move over and make space for meritorious women who are often left out of important roles or not given the career opportunities they deserve because of gender stereotypes.

“It’s not about men being pushed out – it’s actually about men accepting they may have unconscious bias, that women themselves may have unconscious bias, and all of that needs to change. If we want true merit, we will have equality.”