Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins Talks Equal Pay and Equal Roles

Tues 22 Nov

It’s safe to say that Kate Jenkins knows a thing or two about gender equality, having gathered a wealth of human rights and legal experience over the years. Kate commenced her term as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner in April 2016 and has hit the ground running, determined to prevent violence against women and their children, secure women’s economic security, and advocate for greater diversity in decision making roles across our community.

Kate will deliver a keynote We Can + We Will on Day Two of Breakthrough. You can also see her in the Reforming Law workshop. We had a chat to Kate about the gender pay gap and women in sport. 

VWT: The national gender pay gap decreased by 1.7 percentage points over the 12 months up to September 7, 2016 but still stands at 16.2%. Whilst pleasing to see the gap decreasing should we be encouraged or discourage by the speed with which it is happening? What particular strategies would you advocate to hasten that process?

Kate Jenkins (KJ): It never would have occurred to me that in 2016 we would still be so far from equality. But speaking to women across Australia has made clear that not only do women lose out due to the gender pay gap, but they in fact accumulate poverty over the course of their lifetimes.

Progress has been far too slow. Part of the problem is that laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex have failed to eliminate the economic sexism still experienced by women because of its cumulative and indirect nature. A recent example of this can be found in the KPMG Australia report released last month, which found that sex discrimination continues to account for the single largest component of the pay gap – and is one that it actually increasing over time (from 35% in 2009 to 38% in 2016). This is a very disturbing finding and one that indicates that we need to confront attitudes in our community and workplaces that give rise to sex discrimination.

I would encourage all organisations to conduct a gender wage gap audit to identity any gaps and to review contracts, policies and industrial arrangements that might contain barriers to women or carers. Managers in particular play an important role in helping women progress and maintain secure employment, so I would encourage anyone who manages staff to think about what they can do to help women maintain their participation in the workforce.

Advancing women’s economic security benefits not just women, but families, communities, workplaces and the Australian economy.

VWT: Women in sport is another area in which you take a passionate interest and role. What are your thoughts on the creation of the Women’s Football League? 

KJ: As a sports lover, I think this is a great outcome for women. It is important for young girls in particular to have role models who encourage them to be physically active and to take part in such an important aspect of Australian culture.

Sport is a very significant part of life for many Australians and it is often on the sporting field that gender stereotypes begin to develop. One of my major priorities is to continue to actively pursue equal participation – and equal pay – for girls and women in sport.

There are enormous opportunities for improving gender equality in sport more broadly – not only for athletes but also for women leaders, coaches, administrators, spectators and sports journalists.


VWT: Too often when we interrogate the lack of gender parity in relation to high level appointments the ‘merit’ argument arises. Given the proven value adding that women in decision making roles bring too an organisation, what more can be done to increase the frequency and number of such appointments?

KJ: It is still the case that women are significantly under-represented in management and at board level, right across the public, private and community sectors and in government. I strongly believe that we need leaders who reflect the full diversity of our community, including multicultural backgrounds. Ensuring that these groups have meaningful and truly representative roles in decision-making and leadership is one of my major priorities as Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Focusing specifically on gender, there are a number of barriers to women progressing to leadership roles, including the inability to access flexible working conditions, lack of role models and stereotypes about women in the workplace and in society in general. To overcome these barriers we need to reflect on the use of merit systems, including by assessing recruitment and promotion processes to ensure that bias is minimised.

It is important that there is leadership from the top of organisations. The CEO and senior leaders must show that they support diversity across the organisation and particularly in leadership roles. We need to ensure that there is accountability so that organisations can track their progress against key performance indicators or targets. It is also important to plan ahead by providing development opportunities to support women’s return to work and career progression so we have a pathway for future women leaders.

See Kate deliver a keynote We Can + We Will  on Day Two of Breakthrough. You can also see her in the Reforming Law workshop, as part of We Can + We Will

Happening over 25 + 26 Nov at the Melbourne Town Hall, Breakthrough features 100+ speakers and performers (such as Jessica Rowe, Jan Fran, Judith Lucy and more!) and real gender equality action. Tickets on sale now.

Buy Tickets

Latest News

Enough is enough - It's Time to Close the Pay Gap

Enough is enough - It's Time to Close the Pay Gap


It’s 2016 and Australian working women are still being denied the pay and rights they deserve. We say enough is enough - it's time to make a...

Read more
The Mother Load

The Mother Load


Is the question of economic security for women – waged and unwaged – simply too vexed for our nation to handle?

Mary Crooks AO Read more
'Workplace Diversity' Not Just a Buzz Term.

'Workplace Diversity' Not Just a Buzz Term.


As we nudge 2017, it’s a good time to reflect on our progress when it comes to gender balance in the workplace. Over the last sixty years, Australian women have been engaged in the workforce in ever increasing numbers. However, it’s only recently that ‘workplace diversity’ has become the buzz term; a quick Google search brings up a whopping 69,500,000 results. Gender balance in the workplace? Not yet.

Casimira Melican Read more