Women on Boards, a leading female broker and advocacy group, have come out in support of the Federal Government’s announcement of new measures to support equal gender workforce composition in business. The announcement was a watershed event for women in Australia, they said.

The change in legislation applies to all businesses with more than 100 employees and encourages them to take action to improve gender balance within their workforce or face potential legal and financial penalties.

“The changes announced by Minister Kate Ellis ensure there will be clear financial drivers for business to start to take action around improving opportunities and positions for women,” says Claire Braund, co-founder of Women on Boards. “It has become increasingly clear that without the hip pocket threat, business will not do much more than express good intentions around gender equity. And women want outcomes – not just good intentions.”

One of the reporting items will be pay equity, whereby businesses are required to report salaries of different staff members. This will allow the Government to highlight where gender pay gaps exist or are emerging, and to take action to improve these.

“Diversity is not only a women’s issue, just as parenting is not only a female issue,” says Braund. “They are issues for men, women, families, society and business.”

However, not all are convinced of the benefits of the proposed changes. David Gregory, director of workplace policy at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says unnecessary administrative burden will be placed on businesses to comply.

“There are legitimate questions which need to be asked about how effective these measures will be in meeting those objectives and the additional red tape burden it will potentially place on business,” he says. “While business supports gender equity and greater participation by women in the workforce, these are issues for our society to resolve and business, while an important participant with rights and obligations like the rest of the community, should not be made solely responsible for achieving social outcomes.”

The legislation will be introduced this year. Reports under the new system are slated for early 2013.