No not that kind of sex.  The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).  For nearly 40 years the SDA has made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex, a term which is encompasses so much more than just gender.  Specifically, the SDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex, gender identity, intersex status, sexual orientation, marital or relationship status, family responsibilities, because they are pregnant, might become pregnant or because they are breastfeeding.  In addition, the SDA also makes sexual harassment against the law.

While this all seems fairly straight forward, people are still getting it wrong, even in organisations that pride themselves on being equal opportunity employers. 

Benefits of not discriminating

When we look at the commercial benefits of not discriminating on the basis of sex, it’s actually surprising that the legislation is needed at all:

  • 60% of university graduates are women[1]
  • LGBTIQ+ employees who are out at work and in an inclusive environment are 50% more likely to innovate than those who are not and are 28% more likely to provide excellent customer/client service than those who are not.[2]
  • Increasing women’s representation by 10 percentage points or more on the Boards of Australian ASX-listed companies led to a 4.9% increase in the company market value, worth the equivalent of AUD$78.5 million for the average company[3]
  • ASX500 companies with women directors delivered significantly higher return on equity than those companies without any women on their boards – 6.7% over 3 years and 8.7% over 5 years.[4]
  • 27% of LGBTIQ+ employees who are not out indicated that hiding their identity at work had held them back from speaking up or sharing an idea.[5]

Unconscious bias playing out as discrimination

Unfortunately, much of the discrimination we see in organisations is due to unconscious bias, where managers make negative assumptions, often unconsciously, about various groups of people and this plays out as discrimination.  For example, the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report[6] found:

  • Replacing a woman’s name with a man’s name on a CV increases the chance of being hired by 60%
  • Women are typically hired based on their past performance whereas men are hired on their future potential
  • When performance review criteria are unclear, evaluators tend to rely on gut feeling and personal inferences which results in the criteria being shifted to suit male candidates over female candidates and women end up with lower performance ratings and lost opportunities.
  • When performance review criteria are unclear, evaluators tend to rely on gut feeling and personal inferences which results in the criteria being shifted to suit male candidates over female candidates and women end up with lower performance ratings and lost opportunities.

Further, a study by Diversity Council of Australia found that Australian LGBTIQ+ workers are almost 50% more likely to have experienced harassment and/or discrimination in the past year than non-LGBTIQ+ workers.[7]   In addition, a research by Harvard Business Review of performance evaluations in tech found that 66% of women’s performance reviews contained negative personality criticism (“You come off as abrasive”) whereas only 1% of men’s reviews did.[8]  Further, when women received specific developmental feedback, it tended to be overly focused on their communication style.  Women received most of the negative feedback about communication styles.  In fact, 76% of references to being “too aggressive” happened in women’s reviews, versus just 24% in men’s.[9]

How to avoid the pitfalls

Many of the managers involved in the above statistics would have made those employment decisions believing they were making decisions based on merit, when they were actually making decisions to fit their unconscious biases.  The funny thing about unconscious biases, is well, they are done unconsciously.  So no amount of unconscious bias training alerting you to your biases will remove your biases.  However participating in training that will help you to build systems and processes in place to help you and your team to mitigate these biases and make better, more informed decisions is highly recommended.

The other critical action that every manager and organisation should take is undertaking regular active bystander intervention training.   By developing the tools needed to feel able to intervene in any situation that sees inappropriate behaviour or decisions occurring, helps to positively change the culture of an organisation to a more inclusive one.

[1] Department of Education and Training (2020), Higher Education Statistics Data Cube (uCube)
[2] Colella, L 2019 Why is it so difficult for LGBTIQ+ Australians to come out in their workplace?, Deloitte
[3] Cassells R and Duncan A (2021), Gender Equity Insights 2021: Making it a priority, BCEC|WGEA Gender Equity Series, Issue #6, March 2021
[4] ASX 500 – Women Leaders: Research Note, Tina Brothers, Reibey Institute, 2011,
[5]  S. A. Hewlett and K. Yoshino, Out in the world: Securing LGBT rights in the global marketplace, Coqual (formerly Centre for Talent Innovation), 2016,
[6] Women in the Workplace Report 2021 is conducted annually by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company.  The 2021 survey covered 65,000 employees and 423 participating organisations employing 12 million people.
[7] Diversity Council of Australia Inclusion@Work Index 2017
[8] Snyder, K. (2014, August 26). The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews. Fortune.
[9] Cecchi-Dimeglio, P, 2017, How Gender Bias Corrupts Performance Reviews, and What to do About it? Harvard Business Review

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